PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Three bills that would ban someone convicted of domestic assault from owning guns drew about two hours of testimony from gun enthusiasts and gun-control activists at the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday evening.
No matter whether they supported or opposed the bills, many of the speakers said they wanted to protect victims of domestic violence from their abusers. They disagreed about whether these bills would be effective.
Tuesday's hearing was the first of two days of gun bills before the Judiciary Committee, which took no action on the bills. As the panel heard the bills, people wearing "gun sense voter" shirts filled the front row of the room.
The Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence will hold a rally at the State House on Thursday afternoon to show support for the bills, including one that would ban people who hold concealed-carry permits from bringing guns onto school grounds, plus limiting magazines to 10 rounds.
The three domestic violence bills sponsored by Providence Rep. Anastasia Williams, South Kingstown Rep. Teresa Tanzi, and East Providence Rep. Gregg Amore, all Democrats, seek to bring Rhode Island in line with federal law that bars people convicted of domestic violence from owning or buying guns.
The bills would apply to someone convicted of a misdemeanor domestic assault, but not "petty misdemeanors" such as domestic disorderly conduct or refusal to relinquish the phone.
Williams' bill would also ban anyone from openly carrying a rifle, except while hunting or on the person's private property. And, the bill would set a 15-year prison sentence for anyone who gives or sells a gun to a minor who uses the firearm to commit a violent crime.
Tanzi's bill would also require people who are subject to restraining orders to surrender their guns for the duration. The only exceptions are police officers and military personnel, but they would be required to store their firearms at work. If convicted of domestic assault, people would be required to surrender their firearms to state or local police, or a licensed gun dealer.
Amore's bill is supported by the attorney general's office. The bill would not apply in cases that have been expunged, or that have resulted in a filing or probation.
"As a pastor, I am well aware of the kind of hurt that occurs in domestic violence situations. Until a family is at a point where they are safe, healing is not going to occur," said the Rev. Eugene T. Dyszlewski, chairman of the Religious Coalition for a Violence-Free Rhode Island. "If you remove the gun from the setting, you're establishing a certain level of safety."
Frank R. Saccoccio, the president of the Rhode Island Second Amendment Coalition, criticized the language in each of the bills, calling them "overly broad." The 15-year sentence for giving a gun to a minor who uses it for violent crime is an "unbelievably harsh penalty" that limits judicial discretion, Saccoccio said.
"All I'm hearing is fear of a slippery slope," said Julia Wyman, legislative director for the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, which collaborated on Amore's bill. "We need to take firearms out of the hands of abusive people."
Correction: Julia Wyman is the director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, not the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
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