PROVIDENCE – With hundreds of people in yellow shirts standing in the Senate galley and in the halls outside the chamber of the Rhode Island State House chanting, “vote them out,” the state Senate voted Tuesday night to outlaw gun magazines that exceed 10 rounds.
Hours earlier the gun magazine bill – S 2653 – which opponents contend would turn thousands of law-abiding Rhode Islanders into felons for the magazine size of their guns if they did not turn the guns over to the state and without compensation, failed in the Senate Judiciary committee on a tie vote.
Opponents of the measure, many wearing the customary yellow shirts to show support for the Second Amendment, cheered outside.
But the celebration lasted only a few minutes.
After most of the people in yellow had left the State House, the Senate leadership used a rare parliamentary maneuver to circumvent the committee’s vote.
An identical House bill – H 6614 – which was sent to the Senate days earlier, was rushed to the Senate floor for a vote, and passed the overwhelmingly Democrat body by a 25 to 11 vote after a raucous debate.
Sen. President Dominick Ruggerio tried to stop Senate Minority Whip Jessica de la Cruz from speaking on the controversial move. de la Cruz, who represents District 23 in Burrillville, Glocester and North Smithfield, did not back down as she spoke up against the unusual tactic used by the leadership.
Ruggerio played a pivotal role in the passage of the bill.
“I have firearms. I’m a Second Amendment person,” he was quoted as saying in The Boston Globe. “But we have to do something about what’s happening out there. Every day it gets worse.”
Earlier this month in Ohio, a bill passed that “empowers local boards of education to allow teachers to carry a gun in the classroom,” according to Ohio Capital Journal.
Here in Rhode Island, at a recent Glocester Town Council meeting Councilor David LaPlante, a retired police captain, urgently called for the hiring of private security to increase school safety.
In April, local news reported on Ruggerio’s remarks at the “Eggs & Issues” lecture series by Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce.
“He took direct aim at the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, the leftist campaign group co-founded by gubernatorial candidate Matt Brown,” reported WPRI.
The Cooperative is, “vocal, and their radical ideas get a lot of media attention,” Ruggerio said, according to the WPRI news report. “So it is absolutely vital that we also hear from you. We need you to participate in the electoral process…including primaries.”
The Rhode Island Political Cooperative, with 50 candidates, most for the General Assembly, is targeting Ruggerio’s seat and others.
“What we’re doing this time around is not just to win a few more races, but to win enough races across the state to win a full-out governing majority, get a new Senate president and a new House speaker,” Brown said, according to The Public’s Radio.
Ruggerio’s sudden switch on his gun rights stand has drawn the attention of many.
“The ‘A’ rated NRA powerbroker had protected gun rights for years,” according to Go Local Providence.
The Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence announced in a press release, “We especially wish to thank the Senate leadership team–Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey and Senate Whip Maryellen Goodwin–for making sure the large-capacity magazine ban did not die in the Senate Judiciary by bringing House Bill 6614 for a vote via ‘immediate consideration.’”
“We are incredibly grateful to Senate Judiciary Chair Cynthia Coyne for her steady stewardship and strong support of the large-capacity magazine ban,” noted RICAGV.
The NRA responded to what they labeled the Senate’s “maneuver” with a call to action, stating on their website, “Gun control proponents had to enlist the two Senate leaders as ex officio members simply to get to a tie vote. At the end of the day, this isn’t about sound public policy, it’s about politics. You filled the Statehouse, and they ignored you. That is precisely why the energy in the building against this bill needs to translate into a strong election effort and persist into November. The majority of Rhode Island lawmakers can no longer be entrusted to guarantee your constitutional rights, and that means it is time for change. ”
The roll call of how each senator voted on H6614 – and the text of the bill – is here.
de la Cruz was one of the legislators who argued against the merits of the bill and the tactic used by the leadership.
“Why do we even sit in committee, why do we even listen to hours upon hours of testimony, especially in judiciary, and why even bother having testimony from the public, if leadership will circumvent and pervert the process – because that was what happened tonight,” said de la Cruz.
Other Republican and some Democrats joined de la Cruz to argue that the legislation makes felons out of tens of thousands of law-abiding citizens who own higher capacity magazines.
Attempts to amend the bill to grandfather magazines that hold more than 10 rounds failed.
Sen. Cynthia Armour Coyne, a former Rhode Island State Police lieutenant, and the Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, stated in a press release, “High-capacity magazines have no legitimate purpose for hunting or self-defense. They enable shooters to unleash torrents of bullets and inflict maximum harm in mere seconds, making them a tool of the trade for mass shootings, drug trafficking and gang violence. They put the public, law enforcement officers and the user in greater harm. Making high capacity magazines illegal to sell and possess will enhance public safety.”
RICAGV calls grandfathering “high-capacity” magazines “unacceptable.”
The NRA, meanwhile, provides counters about “assault weapons” and “large” magazines.
Second amendment supporters say proponents of “restrictive,” gun measures ultimately want to ban gun ownership, despite their claims of respecting the Second Amendment and law-abiding gun owning citizens.
“The end goal is to abolish the Second Amendment slowly, but surely,” said de la Cruz. “If we really cared about people we would let them defend themselves.”
“If we really cared about people, we would provide the proper mental health service,” she added, referring to arguments that mass shootings are a mental health issue, not a gun magazine capacity issue.
RICAGV disputes the idea that mass shootings are a mental health issue.
“After the large-capacity magazine ban passed the Senate, a few dozen angry opponents of the bill loudly disrupted the session with chants of ‘vote them out,'” the coalition stated of the vote this week. “RICAGV is preparing to utilize its political power to protect the senators and representatives who stood up to the gun lobby and to mobilize against those few remaining Rhode Island politicians who continue to do its bidding. We will not allow our state’s considerable progress on the issue of gun violence to be set back.”
The Senate also passed other gun control bills – one bill would prohibit people from carrying a loaded rifle or shotgun in public. The other bill pushes the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21.
No mention was made of how the state would enforce the new gun magazine restriction, such as, for example, if they would knock on doors to confiscate guns, if Gov. Dan McKee signs the bills into law.
Meanwhile, lawsuits and more rallies for the Second Amendment – and to restrict or end it – are expected.