At a state house rotunda ceremony this morning, surrounded by scores of Moms Demand Action and RI Coalition Against Gun Violence activists wearing orange t-shirts, Gov. Gina Raimondo signed into law two new pieces of gun safety legislation.
The first, sponsored in the Senate by Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin and in the House by Rep. Dennis Canario, is a “red flag” law which allows police to obtain an “extreme risk protective order” that prohibits an individual from possessing firearms, based on warning signs that the person might commit violence. The other law, sponsored by Rep. Robert Craven and Sen. Jim Seveney, bans bump stocks, binary triggers, and trigger cranks on semi-automatic weapons.
“There’s no question that we need these laws,” Raimondo told the crowd flowing down the steps to the Bell Room and watching from the balconies. “There’s no question that it’s common sense and there’s no question that it will make us safer.”
Raimondo went on. “Right after Parkland, I talked a lot about my 13-year-old daughter Ceci because I came home and she said, ‘Hey Mom, you hear about that shooting in Florida?’ I said of course I did. And she said, ‘Well, what are you doing about it.’ And I started to say, you know, Washington needs to ban military weapons, and she said, ‘No, Mom, what are you going to do about it.’ So today, Ceci, I’m telling you I’m signing these two bills. We are taking action. We’re not waiting for change. We’re not waiting for someone else to solve the problem. We are the change.”
House Speaker Nick Mattiello, one of the co-sponsors of the red flag legislation, spoke to the importance of the measure. “All of our law enforcement professionals will have the tools that they need to apply for a restraining order to a judge and to get firearms away from folks that just should not have them.”
Mattiello praised the efforts of lead sponsor, Portsmouth Rep. Dennis Canario. “He was instrumental,” said Mattiello.
In a statement, Rep. Canario said, “This new law will disarm those who pose a serious threat for the protection of children and the public. As a retired police officer with more than 25 years of experience in the law enforcement field, I thank my fellow officers for their leadership and commitment to addressing this critical situation.”
The House sponsor of the bump stock legislation, Rep. Bob Craven, spoke to the process of building consensus around the bill. “There are competing values and there are competing interests,” he said. “But in this instance they came together. We realized that from a tragedy where 50-some people died that something good can come from it, so that something like this would never happen here in Rhode Island.”
Senate President Dominic Ruggerio struck a somber note. “Normally at these events I say I’m glad to be here,” he said. “But I’m really not, because I think it’s a sad that any of us have to be here.” He promised that the Senate would continue to look at other pieces of gun safety legislation that are still pending.
Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, lead senate sponsor of the red flag bill, praised the strong bipartisan support in that chamber. “The bill in the Senate was signed by every single state senator except for one,” she said. “We don’t often see that.” She also thanked the advocates for their support. “In particular I’d like to thank Everytown who worked for months alongside me to see this bill become a reality.”
The bump stock bill’s senate sponsor, Portsmouth’s Sen. Jim Seveney was encouraged that Rhode Island would now be the tenth state to outlaw these devices. “The flip side,” noted Seveney, “Is that there are still 40 states where you can go buy one.” He spoke about the role of bump stocks in the Las Vegas shooting. “With this device attached to several rifles a deranged person was able to shoot 1,100 rounds into a crowd in a little bit less than 10 minutes and he killed 58 people,” said Seveney. “I want to make special note that he also injured 851. These 851 people in many cases are still suffering. So we can’t forget them.”
Leader of the Rhode Island Moms chapter, Jennifer Boylan, said that the two new laws were an important step. “I think they put Rhode Island back on the map as a leader in passing commonsense gun laws,” said Boylan. But, she reminded lawmakers, there was still much work to be done. “Gun violence is really complicated and there’s no one answer. It’s not even two or three answers.We now have two or three fantastic pieces of legislation here in Rhode Island,” she said, “But we have more work to do.”