In the wake of the senseless shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the General Assembly leadership has joined forces with Governor Lincoln Chafee, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and law enforcement officials to introduce legislation to improve gun safety and strengthen existing laws dealing with firearms violations.
At a State House news conference held today, legislative leaders, the Governor and the Attorney General unveiled a package of nine bills that have been or will be introduced in both legislative chambers.
Discussing the legislation at the news conference, Speaker of the House Gordon D. Fox said that "The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School sounded a wake-up call for all of us. For the last several months, we have been reviewing our firearms laws and our mental health procedures. The package will give law enforcement the tools they need to address gun-related criminal activity and better identify individuals who are a danger to themselves or others."
President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed said, "This is the beginning of an important conversation taking place in every state in the nation and at the federal level. We took a very methodical approach in the development of this legislation. I look forward to a vigorous public dialogue and a thorough committee vetting of the ideas presented today."
Governor Chafee, who called for common-sense gun safety measures in his January State of the State Address, said, "This is the beginning of the process. I am obviously in support of making our Rhode Island communities safer while respecting Constitutional rights. I am confident that we can find that balance and I looking forward to working with the General Assembly to achieve it."
Attorney General Kilmartin introduced legislation to bring continuity to the gun permitting process and to enhance penalties for those who commit crimes with the use of firearms. "As a community, we must address the issue of gun violence on our streets. The legislation proposed by my office gives prosecutors and the courts the tools needed to effectively prosecute and sentence those who illegally possess and use firearms. It is important that we don't enact legislation in a reactionary manner, but carefully consider and weigh all sides of this issue," he said.
The bills that are part of the package are:
Gun Control and Safe Firearms Act: This bill bans the manufacture, sale, purchase or possession of semi-automatic assault weapons after July 1, 2013. It also bans high capacity magazines, belts, drums, feed strips or similar devices manufactured on or after July 1. It does not apply if the weapon is an antique, is inoperable, or was manufactured prior to July 1, 1963, and does not apply to an attached tubular device capable of operating only with .22 caliber rimfire ammunition.
Firearms Violations: This bill increases the maximum penalty for carrying a stolen firearm when committing a crime of violence from 10 years to 15 years for a first offense. It makes it unlawful for anyone to possess a stolen firearm, setting a penalty of not less than three years or more than 15 years in prison.
Behavioral Health and Firearms Safety Task Force: The bill creates a task force charged with making recommendations and possibly proposing legislation to support full participation in the NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) Index and to act in an advisory capacity to the Relief for Disqualifiers Board. The task force would conduct a review of different states' approaches for compliance with NICS and work with a newly-created Firearms Task Force to make sure that definitions in chapters of state law related to mental health and substance abuse are consistent with those in firearms statutes. The task force is required to report back to the governor and General Assembly before January 1, 2014.
Relief for Disqualifiers Board: This bill creates a board to which individuals can appeal if they are denied a firearm based on a mental health adjudication or commitment or on substance abuse backgrounds as reported in the NICS Index. The board will be composed of a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a member of law enforcement, the director of the RI Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, and the Mental Health Advocate. Petitioners to the board will be required to submit medical records and other information and the board will be required to hear the petition within 60 days of it being submitted. If denied by the board, the petitioner will be able to appeal to Superior Court.
Firearms Task Force: The bill creates a task force to review gun laws in Rhode Island, reporting back to the governor and General Assembly by January 1, 2014.
Background Checks and Attorney General Permits (AG Kilmartin bill): These bills would require a person requesting a license or permit to carry a pistol or revolver to undergo national criminal background checks and will make the Attorney General's office the license and/or permitting authority, as requested by local law enforcement officials.
Weapons Laws (AG Kilmartin bill): This bill will increase penalties for violations of existing weapons statutes and will make straw purchasing of weapons a crime. Among the various changes proposed for existing law are:
-- Provides that anyone convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense cannot purchase, own, carry, transport of have in their possession a firearm and increases penalties for violation.
-- Increases penalties for those who steal a firearm.
-- Provides that if a firearm is sold, transferred, given or conveyed to a minor and that firearm is used in a crime of violence, the person who provided the firearm to a minor will be subject to an additional penalty.
-- Adds a new section to the law to provide that no person, entity or dealer shall sell, loan or transfer a firearm to any person whom they know or have cause to believe is not the actual purchaser (straw purchases).
-- Increases penalties for failing to report a lost or stolen firearm.
Possession of Firearm by Minor: These bills make it illegal for anyone under 18 to possess a firearm unless they are involved in a competition, hunting or are accompanied by a parent or qualified adult over 21 who is licensed to possess and use the firearm, in a ceremony, reserve officer training or in firearms education or going back and forth to a range or camp or are engaged in lawful hunting activity.
The House bill,(2013-H5576) , was introduced by Rep. Maria E. Cimini (D-Dist. 7, Providence) on behalf of the Attorney General. The Senate bill, (2013-S0425), was introduced by Sen. Harold M. Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence).
Alteration of Firearm Numbers: These bills make it illegal to manufacture, sell, purchase or possess any firearm that has an altered, obliterated or removed mark of identification, including but not limited to the ID of the maker, model or other identifying marker. The bills do not apply to antiques.
The House bill, (2013-H5286), was introduced by Rep. Robert E. Craven Sr. (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown) on behalf of the Attorney General. The Senate bill,(2013-S0455) , was introduced by Sen. Gayle L. Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence).
Also invited to participate in the news conference were Office of Public Safety (State Police) Superintendent Col. Steven G. O'Donnell; RI Police Chiefs Association President John R. Desmarais (Chief of Cumberland Police Department), and a number of mental health advocates.