In response to February’s mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida, Rhode Island legislators have introduced new proposals aimed at addressing gun violence.
“I think we got some great bills sponsored by some local folks, and I am looking forward to the conversation,” said state Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown). “I know they’re not going to be easy, and there are going to be a lot of people who are responding with their concerns. I hope for the sake of protecting lives, we are able to move forward.”
Tanzi said she believes local residents are “fed up with the inaction” from elected officials when it comes to gun control.
She recently introduced a bill that would change the legal age to purchase firearms or ammunition in the state from 18 to 21. The bill would also restrict people under the age of 21 from possessing firearms except while participating in authorized activities supervised by someone over the age of 21.
“A lot of times we come out of tragedies and say, ‘What is something concrete we could have done?’ And for years, I have wondered why people could go in at 18 and purchase an AR-15-type weapon, but they have to be 21 to purchase a handgun,” she said. “It seemed a little out of proportion to me. This was an obvious way to act after Parkland.”
Rhode Island already prohibits people under the age of 21 from buying handguns. But they are allowed to purchase and possess rifles and shotguns.
Tanzi said she has been looking at research regarding the development of the brain for years. She said there is clear evidence that 18-year-olds do not have the same understanding of long-term consequences.
“They are more impulsive,” she said. “They’re prone to responding to things in a different way.”
Another bill, introduced by state Sen. James C. Sheehan (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown) and state Rep. Robert E. Craven (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown), would outlaw the modification of semi-automatic firearms that convert the weapon into fully automatic. Possession of these rapid-fire devices, such as bump stocks, binary triggers or trigger cranks, would be punishable by up to 10 years of imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.
Craven said he first learned about these technologies, which replace a rifle’s standard stock, allowing the weapon to slide back and forth rapidly, after the mass shooting in Las Vegas last October, which killed 58 people. Twelve of the rifles in the gunman’s possession were modified with a bump stock, allowing the weapon to fire about 90 shots in 10 seconds — a much faster rate than the AR-15-style assault rifle used by the Orlando nightclub shooter, which fired about 24 shots in nine seconds, according to the Rhode Island General Assembly.
“Watching it on television, it appeared as though the ... shooting was rapid fire,” Craven said. “And then they were talking about bump stocks, so I spoke with someone a little more knowledgeable than myself. I had a young lawyer that works for me look it up, and we learned ... you could purchase it online for 200 bucks.”
Craven said he expects the bill to pass.
“The bump stocks to me is an absolute no-brainer,” Tanzi said. “I think the intention when the ban on automatic weapons was put into place is being violated by the mechanical means that has been created to make these weapons more deadly, so I am 100 percent supportive of that.”
Gov. Gina Raimondo recently took executive action to establish a “red flag” policy that aims to keep guns out of the hands of people who pose danger to themselves and others. It directs law enforcement agencies to consider all “red flags,” including recent threats made in person, in videos and on social media, and to take firearms from those considered potentially violent. It also calls for a public awareness campaign to raise awareness of red flags that indicate a person could be a violent threat. The General Assembly is currently considering legislation that would give judges similar authority.
“The heartbreaking shooting in Parkland has once again proven that if the federal government won’t act, states need to do more to prevent the gun violence that has become far too common,” Raimondo said in a statement. “We cannot wait a minute longer for Washington to take action to prevent gun violence. The executive order I signed today is an immediate step we can take to make residents safer. It sets the table for a complementary legislative effort.”
Earlier in February, Raimondo joined with the governors of New York and New Jersey to create a new coalition that will create a multi-state database to trace and intercept guns that are used in crimes or transported across state borders. Massachusetts and Connecticut have since joined.
Craven spoke in support of the “red flag” order and legislation.
“The mental health issue I always thought has been the most important component of these mass shootings,” he said. “Each one seems to have slipped into some state of mental distress or mental health crisis for a variety of reasons.”
Tanzi said she supports the measure as well, and spoke of its potential to stop suicides.
“When people are feeling suicidal, the attempt is a short-term problem at the moment,” she said. “When people attempt suicide and they don’t complete suicide, nine times out of 10, they never try it again ... it just seems so obvious to me that at times of heightened crisis, if we separate someone in a moment of crisis from a deadly weapon, then they can go on to live a full and complete life and move on.”