Written by Pete Bilderback and published in the Providence Journal on May 14, 2021.
While we have heard a lot of noise from gun-safety opponents about the dramatic increase in background checks as people rush to buy guns to protect their families during the pandemic, the number of times guns are used defensively in Rhode Island is practically zero (2 verified uses in 2019 and 3 in 2020). In fact, this year overall handgun sales in the U.S. were down 20% from the same month in 2020.
While overall violent crime is down, gun lobbyists claim with a straight face that 10 rounds of ammunition are insufficient to protect their families from “gang-bangers,” antifa, or whoever else they claim is looking to invade Rhode Island’s white suburbs. And yet under oath, the NRA’s own expert testified that it is rare for more than two rounds of ammunition to be used in self-defense.
While handguns sales have dropped, gun manufacturers now focus on selling military-style assault weapons and have begun marketing smaller guns that are more lethal and easier to conceal, such as Smith & Wesson’s new M&P Shield Plus micro-compact carry gun (called a “plus” because its extended magazine can hold 13 rounds, plus a live bullet in the chamber). How big is this gun that can mow down half of the Red Sox roster? Six inches long. About the same size as an Android phone.
According to a 2020 poll done by the Center for Research and Public Policy, approximately 7.8% of Rhode Islanders already own military-style assault weapons, and there are approximately 66,000 of them already in circulation in the state. And on average we are adding 3,000 more to that number each month.
Attorney General Peter Neronha, Gov. Dan McKee, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, along with law enforcement and 50 other Rhode Island organizations including The RI Medical Society, the RI Association of School Committee, the RI Superintendents Association, AFT, Family Service of RI, Bishops Against Gun Violence, the Council of Churches, the American College of Physicians RI Chapter, the RI Council for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and many others, support a legislative package of bills that will decrease the lethality of weapons available.
None of these bills reduce anyone’s ability to protect themselves, there will still be hundreds of firearms available for purchase in RI that can be used for self-defense. What the legislation will do is increase accountability for firearms owners by requiring them to safely store their weapons, and enforce stricter rules to reduce straw purchases, and help keep guns off of our streets.
Homicides were up 84% in Rhode Island in 2020, and they continue to rise. We have already seen three times as many so far this year compared to last year. Residents of Providence hear almost nightly alerts of gunfire in the city. It is time for all of our state leaders to take action and do what over 70% of Rhode Islanders have been asking them to do since the Sandy Hook school massacre.
The majority of these bills have been held for further study for the House and Senate Judiciary Committees for the past eight years. It is time for leadership to allow these life-saving bills, which enjoy majority support in both the House and Senate, to the floor for a vote.