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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A bill by State Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett)  to raise the legal age to buy firearms or ammunition in Rhode Island from 18 to 21 is set to become law in Rhode Island.

Tanzi’s bill, co-sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, passed the Senate 31-5 Tuesday during a lengthy and contentious session on a package of gun reform legislation in the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old gunman claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers and injured 17 other people.

The House of Representatives passed the bill Friday, 52-16.

The legislature on Tuesday also passed a ban on firearm magazines containing more than 10 rounds of ammunition and a bill banning the carrying of loaded shotguns in public.

All three bills now go to Gov. Dan McKee, who has said he will sign them.

“When our existing law prohibiting people under 21 from buying handguns was enacted in 1959, AR-15s were weapons that even the military didn’t have,” Tanzi said.

“No one envisioned that 63 years later, there would be millions of these high-velocity, extraordinarily lethal weapons in the hands of civilians. Certainly no one ever imagined that a teenager would go out and legally buy two of them on his 18th birthday along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, then use them to massacre 19 innocent children and two teachers at school.”

Current state law bans the sale or possession of handguns to people under 21, but allows them to buy and possess rifles and shotguns. The newly passed legislation (2022-H 7457aa, 2022-S 2637A) will make it illegal to sell any firearm or ammunition to anyone under 21, with violations punishable by up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines. The bill contains exceptions for police, state marshals or correctional officers and active duty military or National Guard members.

“It’s not 1959,” Tanzi added. “In 2022, we need laws that recognize the incredible killing capacity of modern weapons, and the serious gun violence epidemic we have in this nation. We need to put an end to the years of political inaction that is enabling mass shootings. I’m proud that today in Rhode Island, we are moving in the right direction.”

Both lawmakers said that, while no law alone is going to stop mass shootings and other gun violence, they believe it’s important to reduce access to powerful weapons by teenagers and young people, and to stand up for gun safety reform, which is supported by the majority of Americans.

“People under the age of 21 are already prohibited from buying handguns in Rhode Island, but an 18-year-old – someone who might even still be in high school – can buy rifles and shotguns, including the powerful weapons that are often used in mass shootings,” Goodwin, (D-Dist. 1, Providence) said. “It is well-settled science that teenage and post-teenage brains are still developing. It’s common sense that we shouldn’t be selling lethal weapons to people who we’ve decided are not old enough to buy cigarettes or beer.”

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