The Rhode Island House of Representatives on Friday passed three gun bills that supporters say are intended to reduce gun violence, but that critics say impinge on the rights of gun owners.
Lawmakers approved on a vote of 43-26 a bill that would limit magazine capacity to 10 rounds.
Supporters of the legislation say high-capacity magazines enable mass shootings, including the one in Uvalde, Texas, that left 21 people dead. Opponents said the measure would turn lawful owners of those magazines into criminals.
“There are hundreds of thousands of these magazines already distributed across the state. They’re going to be there. The only way — ask the state police — the only way they’re going to enforce a high capacity magazine ban is when someone is being charged with another offense. So again, they’re not going to come into a house in Burrillville and knock on the door and ask the person to offer up allowing their safe to be searched for high capacity magazines,” Rep. David Place, R-Burrillville, told NBC 10 News.
Numerous proposed amendments, including a grandfather clause and compensating owners of high-capacity magazines, were defeated during nearly four hours of debate.
“By the way, the criminals said to say congratulations on passing this bill today. They very much appreciate that people who want to legally defend themselves will have less fire power than they will,” said Deputy Speaker Charlene Lima of Cranston.
She received a round of applause from gun rights advocates, visible in the gallery in their yellow shirts.
House Speaker Joe Shekarchi responded with a warning.
“I appreciate the passion in this debate, and I appreciate everyone being able to be here in person. But we must maintain decorum,” Shekarchi said, before he was interrupted by a heckler. “If decorum is not maintained, I will clear the gallery and close it and everybody can watch it on TV. If you want to test me, I’ll clear the gallery right now.”
Before the debate began, state Attorney General Peter Neronha urged lawmakers not to amend it with a grandfather clause or exemption for the current owners of high-capacity magazines.
“Let me be clear—we need to reduce the supply of high-capacity magazines in Rhode Island. The addition of a grandfather clause would render this legislation unenforceable and functionally meaningless and is unnecessary to protect law-abiding gun owners in Rhode Island. This legislation has my full support as written, and I urge its passage,” Neronha said in a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Robert Craven.
The bill would give owners of high-capacity magazines three ways to comply with the law within six months of it being enacted. They can permanently modify the device, surrender it to their local police department or to the state police, or transfer or sell it to a federally licensed dealer or to a person who is lawfully permitted to own or possess it.
The bill provides exceptions for current and retired law enforcement officers and active duty military or National Guard members.
Lawmakers then voted 52-16 to approve a bill that would raise the age for gun and ammunition sales from 18 to 21.
People under 21 are already prohibited from buying a handgun in Rhode Island.
The third bill, a ban on the open carry of loaded shotguns and rifles in public, passed 53-16. The General Assembly said a violation would be punishable by up to five years in prison, or a fine up to $5,000, or both.
The bill makes exceptions for law enforcement, military, and people legally engaged in hunting activity.
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