PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island gun owners are headed to the State House on Thursday to raise their voices against the increasingly likely passage of new gun laws in the wake of the recent mass shootings in a Buffalo supermarket and a Texas elementary school.
On Tuesday, the Rhode Island legislature’s Democratic leaders publicly pledged the passage of unspecified, but “meaningful gun reform legislation” in this session, which is expected to end by the final week in June.
Hours later, each of the state’s top-tier elected officials and a phalanx of legislators and union leaders joined the mother of drive-by shooting victim Esscence T. Christal, in demanding action on a package of proposed new laws, including: bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
In response, gun-rights groups across the state put out a rallying call to their Facebook followers and members:
“The message to lawmakers should be simple: Enough is enough,” they said, echoing the mantra adopted by the other side.
“Get tough on crime and stop harassing law-abiding gun owners. No new gun laws!” they told lawmakers in March, ahead of the back to back House and Senate hearings on guns bills.
Gun control in Rhode Island: Leaders in RI House, Senate line up behind new gun-control measures
This week, several pro-gun groups reposted this message from Brenda Jacob, president of the Federated Rhode Island Sportsmen’s Club, and lobbyist for the Rhode Island Revolver and Rifle Association.
“If you are tired of the way our state is being run, special interest groups, bullying, lies, pay offs, complete disregard for the democratic process and the wishes of the people. Stand with us today as we stand up for our rights at the State House 3-7pm!”
The bills currently at the center of attention would ban so-called assault rifles, place a 10-round limit on ammunition feeding devices, raise the age to buy a long gun from 18 to 21 years old, and prohibit the open carrying of a loaded rifle or shotgun.
Also pending: a bill akin to a law in Massachusetts that would require the safe, locked storage of firearms when they are not in use, a proposal born here out of tragedy.
Much of the debate has centered on the strongly held beliefs of people on both sides of the gun debate, and statistics used to argue both sides in the debates.
Rhode Island’s rate of firearm mortality was among the nation’s lowest, with 5.1 gun deaths per 100,000 people in 2020, compared with 14.2 per 100,000 in Texas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported.
In fact, Rhode Island has had among the five lowest gun mortality rates every year from 2014 to 2020. Other states at the low end include: Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and California.
Though Buffalo, New York, was the scene of a recent mass shooting, the CDC “firearm mortality rates” show that gun crime is less of an issue in New York than it is in most of the rest of the country.
Conversely, states with looser gun restrictions have a higher number of homicides and suicides, according to another study.
The pro-gun lobby in Rhode Island sees statistics such as these as evidence that Rhode Island does not need any new gun laws. In March, ahead of State House hearings, the National Rifle Association posted this message:
“Progressive District Attorneys across the country have gone easy on criminals, and now they have the audacity to blame law-abiding gun owners. We need to tell them to do their job and enforce the laws which are already on the books.
“Rhode Island has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, easily ranking in the top 10. They have passed gun bills the last couple of sessions in Providence, and now they are back for more. Our elected officials, both nationally and here locally, have made a mess of things. While all Americans are suffering, this is their top priority?”
From the Rhode Island Firearm Owners’ League came this, this week: “Tell legislators they’re expected to support real school safety reforms rather than using a tragedy as cover for stripping our rights.”
What is being proposed and why?: Gun control is about to take center stage again at RI State House. Here’s what’s proposed.
Rhode Island currently has the 12th-strongest gun control laws in the country, according to the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.
It requires background checks for private gun sales, has red-flag mechanisms to remove guns from people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others, and prohibits ghost guns.
It imposes a seven-day waiting period on all gun sales, but has no limit on the number of guns a person can buy at one time.
State law allows residents to openly carry loaded rifles in public. Eighteen-year-olds are also legally allowed to purchase long guns and ammunition, while handguns are only available to buyers 21 and older.
Recently passed laws ban firearms on school grounds and close the “straw purchasing” loophole that had allowed people to buy guns for someone else.