This coming December will mark four years since the shooting of 20 first graders and six educators at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Since that shooting, our federal government has not passed a single law to protect Americans from senseless gun violence.
Fortunately, Congress isn’t the only avenue for change. Efforts at passing meaningful legislation at the state level, especially in the northeast, have been a totally different story. Picking up where the federal government has failed us, the state first out of the gate was New York in January 2013. The Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act expanded the definition of assault weapons banned in New York, created a state database for pistol permits, reduced the maximum number of rounds legally allowed in magazines from ten to seven, and required universal background checks on all gun sales.
In April 2013, Connecticut passed new restrictions to the state’s existing assault weapons ban and required universal background checks for all firearm purchases. Governor Malloy signed them into law later the same day.
Also in April 2013, Maryland passed the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, banning the purchase of 45 types of assault weapons and limiting gun magazines to 10 rounds. It requires handgun licensing and fingerprinting for new gun owners, and bans those who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility from buying a gun.
Then in August, 2014, our neighbors in Massachusetts passed a bill reforming the state’s gun laws, with provisions focused on school safety, mental health, background checks and enhanced criminal penalties for gun crimes.
So what has Rhode Island’s General Assembly been doing about gun violence? So far, virtually nothing. Other than one small measure to require that courts report those who have been involuntarily committed to mental institutions, our lawmakers have yet to enact any significant gun laws since Sandy Hook.
Rhode Island can and should be doing more to protect citizens from senseless gun violence. This past session, the Rhode Island chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America supported a bill sponsored by Representative Teresa Tanzi (D – Naragansett, South Kingstown) that would have effectively kept guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. This bill represents a modest and reasonable improvement to our state gun laws, generally bringing Rhode Island law in line with federalThe bill is straightforward: five Rhode Islanders agree that domestic abusers should be prohibited from having guns. And we know that domestic violence affects Rhode Island’s most vulnerable citizens: children, women, and families.
Why have our neighbors in Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts passed meaningful gun laws in recent years, while Rhode Island can’t so much as advance a relatively modest, commonsense bill out of committee? The disconnect lies with our elected officials and includes leadership in both chambers of the legislature. Increasingly, it appears that elected officials are more inclined to listen to the gun lobby than their constituents.
But this November, every registered voter can make an informed decision about who gets their vote. I urge all Rhode Island voters to pledge to support candidates who will fight for common-sense laws to reduce gun violence. Take a few minutes to contact candidates if you do not know where they stand on gun issues and vote accordingly.Vote like your life depends on it. Because with over 33,000 deaths from gun violence every single year in our country, your life and the lives of your loved ones very well may.