PROVIDENCE − The warring sides in the Rhode Island gun debate are headed to the State House on Monday for this year’s battle over proposed new “safe firearm storeage” requirements and a proposed “assault weapons” ban.
And the battle once again pits those with heart-wrenching stories of lives lost to gun violence against those with an unshakeable belief in their right to own whatever firearms they choose for self-protection and sport. And the written testimony is already streaming in.
A National Rifle Association legislative alert earlier this week served up this warning about Monday’s House Judiciary Committee agenda: “Unsatiated gun grabbers are back at it in Providence next week. In their minds, there is always another gun bill to pass until they have completely banned firearms.“
“This hasn’t been about public policy for a long time,” the NRA alert says.
“They just passed a magazine ban last summer and cannot be bothered to wait around to see if it will work like they say it will. That is because we all know what the results are: More infringements for law-abiding citizens, and the beat goes on for criminals. And yet, they are back to do more of the same.”
And Jeannine Fortin wrote: “As I was sitting here writing this, I was thinking this must have been how our forefathers felt when they were trying to escape tyranny and unjust rule.”
The problem is not guns, she wrote. It is: “Lack of mental health assistance and empathy; Division of people through the political blow horn of radical ideas … Lack of respect for law abiding citizens.”
On the other side of the debate is South Kingstown Councilwoman Patricia Alley, who will try for the third year in a row to convince state legislators that her sister Allyson’s 2020 suicide might not have happened if R.I. had a safe storage law akin to the one in Massachusetts.
As she told The Journal in 2021, “my sister’s partner was … active duty military and a firearm safety instructor for the state police at the time of my sister’s death. He referred to the little gun my sister used to kill herself as his ‘personal carry.’
“When it wasn’t on his person, he habitually stored the gun in an easily accessible location known to the family,” Alley said of the unnamed gun owner.
“I believe that if my sister had not been able to access the loaded gun early on the morning of June 26, 2020, she would likely be alive today.”
In his own written testimony, James “Jimmy” Winters, president of the Newport County branch of the NAACP, begged the lawmakers to take to heart what recently happened in Nashville: “Another incident where innocent people have been slaughtered by gun violence … 3 children, 3 adults.”
“Once again, a weapon of war was used to kill unsuspecting civilians … Are we kidding ourselves into thinking that the Second Amendment was meant to allow these powerful guns to be used in the performance of such odious acts of inhumanity? People who use them don’t reflect ‘a well-regulated militia,’ nor are they being used in self-defense or even in ‘sport’.”
In her own written testimony, Kathleen Kloeblen, a registered nurse currently living in Bristol, recounted her memories of the day a lone gunman murdered 26 students and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
“On Friday December 14, 2012, I opened my Nursing Office/Clinic at Newtown High School In Newtown, Ct. It was a beautiful clear day… Christmas vacation was coming upon us … The students were so excited for the holidays,” she recalled, “spinning like tops.”
“All that joy and innocence changed rapidly around 9:30 am that Friday morning. We at the High School and all the other schools were ordered to go into ‘Lockdown.’
“I went into my storage closet with my nursing supervisor … and 3 students who were resting on the cots due to not feeling well. I had my ‘walkie-talkie.’ We heard sirens, helicopters and much commotion over the ‘walkie-talkie’.”
Hours later, “after we were released from Lockdown, I looked into the High School hallways and saw students crying, sobbing, hugging one another … We did not have much information but we knew it was really bad … Our Principal [said] Newtown was going to be now known as the place of one of the deadliest mass shootings in America.”
As a sidenote, she said: “I knew the shooter, Adam Lanza.
“He was a student at Newtown High School for a short time. His mother Nancy removed Adam when his mental health issues worsened, a decision I wish we could have changed. Once he was labeled ‘Homeschooled’ he was off any radar … [and] he sunk deeper into his dark world.”
The six-page House Judiciary Committee agenda includes:
∎House Bill 5300 to ban “the possession, sale, and transfer of assault weapons. Possession of assault weapons owned on the effective date of this act would be ‘grandfathered.'”
In his State of the State address in January, Gov. Dan McKee hailed passage of an assault weapons ban as one of his top priorities for the year. At last count, the House sponsor, Jason Knight, said he had 41 co-sponsors in the 75-member House.
∎House Bill 5367 to prohibit the operation of an outdoor gun range within one mile or closer of any kindergarten through grade 12) schools. Among the opponents: the chief of the Cranston police.
∎House Bill 5434 to require the safe storage of firearms, as Massachusetts does, and provide civil penalties and criminal penalties for violations.
A competing version House Bill 5369 would also make the “failure to safely store a firearm that resulted in serious bodily injury” a felony, but it would be limited to a gun-owner “who knows or reasonably should know that a child or any [other] person prohibited by state or federal law from possessing a firearm is likely to gain access.”
∎House Bill 5045 would allow “those persons with concealed carry permits issued by other states to carry … weapons in Rhode Island” provided their states reciprocate.
This past week has been break week for Rhode Island lawmakers but in their absence, staffers have already set up four long tables in the corridor outside “Room 35” for people to sign up, on Monday, for what promises to be a marathon day-into-night hearing
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