RI Senate president could not, ‘do nothing’ after mass shootings

Second Amendment


PROVIDENCE — Senate President Dominick Ruggerio is a gun owner and a Second Amendment advocate who has received an A rating from the National Rifle Association.


The 73-year-old North Providence Democrat is also a grandfather, with grandchildren 2, 6, 8 and 11 years old. 

In an interview earlier this week – after he led the Senate to pass a bill, defeated earlier the same day in committee, to ban firearm magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition  Ruggerio told The Journal: 

“These school shootings are absolutely horrific, and I don’t see them ending.

“I’d be horrified if something ever happened to my grandchildren because of something  like that and I stood by and did nothing.”

More: After committee rejection, RI Senate approves high-capacity magazine ban

In response to the “we will not comply” chants from the gunowners in yellow T-shirts in the hallways and Senate gallery on Tuesday, Ruggerio said: 

“I didn’t see what the big deal was…. I can’t see where anyone would need” more than 10 bullets, say, “a 30-round magazine banana clip for whatever.”

“If I had one – and I am not saying I do have one – I would comply with the law. I would turn it in.”

He also pushed back against the oft-repeated concern that state lawmakers are on a mission to take everyone’s guns away.

“I will never vote to take anyone’s gun away from them. Never. Never. I mean, that’s a constitutional right … unless it’s a domestic abuser,” he said.

RI House passes gun limits: Ban on large-capacity magazines, minimum age 21 to purchase

The trio of gun bills the Senate approved on Tuesday night have gone to Gov. Dan McKee to be signed into law next week.

In addition to the high-capacity magazine ban, they include bills to raise from 18 to 21 the age to buy firearms and ammunition, and ban people from carrying loaded rifles and shotguns in public.

Those younger than 21 would still be able to possess and use a firearm in the presence of a supervising parent or guardian and when lawfully participating in activities such as hunting. Current law already requires those who purchase revolvers or pistols to be 21 or older. 

The final, and previously unscheduled 25-to-11 vote on the House-passed version of the magazine ban – which came after the Senate Judiciary Committee killed the Senate’s own version on a 6-to-6 vote – angered gun-rights advocates.

More: Cicilline, advocates urge stricter gun laws in wake of mass shootings

Bypassing committees and sending bills directly to the floor is not unusual in the closing days of a legislative session. And Senate rules allow it. But doing so hours after a Senate committee defeat led gun-rights advocates feeling duped and betrayed. 

“You filled the State House, and they ignored you,” read a posting on the RI Gun Shops & RI Gun Owners Facebook page. “The majority of Rhode Island lawmakers can no longer be entrusted to guarantee your constitutional rights, and that means it is time for change.”

“Look, I believe in the Second Amendment,” Ruggerio told The Journal. “I am a strict constructionist of the Constitution. I just think that with everything that is happening … that was something that we had to do.

“It’s not just the school shootings. People are going into businesses and shooting people. It’s way out of control.”

More: How do the New England states compare on gun control legislation?

“I know people say ‘That can’t happen here.’ It can happen anywhere. So I just felt it was the responsible thing to do.”

Ruggerio was first elected to the Senate in 1984 after two terms in the House. Viewed in the past as a conservative on cultural issues such as gun politics he has evolved as the makeup of the Senate has become increasingly progressive.

He is facing a primary challenge for his Senate District 4 seat, for a second time, from Lenny Cioe, a registered nurse.

Asked if he expected his role in bringing the gun bills to a vote would help him in  that race, Ruggerio said: “I don’t know at this point in time.”

“I have been a supporter of the right to bear arms in the past…. I have a lot of people  who own weapons in my district. I have hunters. I have people who shoot competitively. … I’ll just see where everything falls.”

But, “I don’t think about my opponent when I am making votes up here. I just think about the public.”

Ruggerio was not the only NRA “A”-rated senator who had a difficult decision to make.

Sen. Frank Ciccone, a longtime Providence gun dealer, voted in favor of the parliamentary move that enabled the Senate to take the House-passed gun bills up on “immediate consideration” without going to the Senate Judiciary Committee first.

Ciccone, who later voted against the high-capacity magazine ban and for the other two gun bills, said one of the first things he learned when he arrived at the State House was this:

“Learn how to count.”

“Some of us did count and realized that we did not have the votes to stop it, so let’s bring it to the floor and argue it on the floor,”  Ciccone said.

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