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How far will R.I. go with gun legislation this session?

House committee takes up three gun bills on Wednesday, but some Democrats want to go further

House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello
House Speaker Nicholas A. MattielloBarry Chin/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

PROVIDENCE — A flurry of early-session activity is feeding speculation about how far the General Assembly will go on gun legislation this year.

Spurred on by a pair of recent Rhode Island shootings, the conservative Democrats who lead the House and Senate have shown a willingness to consider bills to ban 3D guns and boost communication and coordination among police departments.

On Tuesday, a Senate committee voted to ban 3D guns. And on Wednesday, a House committee heard testimony about 3D guns along with a bill creating a statewide public safety computer system and a bill requiring that gun-purchase applications go to hometown police chiefs.

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But Democrats holding statewide office have called for legislators to go further by, for example, banning “assault-style weapons” and high-capacity magazines.

Governor Gina M. Raimondo and Attorney General Peter F. Neronha got behind those two proposals last year. General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea testified in support of the gun bills before the House committee Wednesday.

And earlier Wednesday, Magaziner announced that the state pension fund is pulling $235,121 in investments out of companies that make what he calls “assault-style weapons” and companies that operate for-profit prisons.

At a news conference, Magaziner said it would be “not sufficient by a long shot” for the legislature to only enact the three bills before House Judiciary on Wednesday. He said Rhode Island should also ban guns in schools and high-capacity magazines, and it should pass “an assault-style weapons ban” like those in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York.

Representative Justine Caldwell, an East Greenwich Democrat, said legislative leaders appear to be backing the three bills heard Wednesday. “When they want something to get done, it can get done really quickly,” she said. “So I hope to persuade them that these are other bills we would like to get done really quickly.”

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Caldwell, Senator Gayle L. Goldin and Senator Joshua Miller on Wednesday reintroduced bills to ban “assault-style weapons” and high-capacity magazines. Caldwell said she got more cosponsors than she expected. “We think this could still be the year,” she said.

House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, a Cranston Democrat, and Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat, both have “A” ratings from the NRA, and they have not expressed support for bans on “assault-style weapons,” high-capacity magazines, or guns in schools.

But last week, the legislative leaders took part in the Globe’s “Rhode Map Live” event in Providence, and Mattiello indicated the House was giving serious consideration to banning 3D guns.

“We have been studying it,” Mattiello said. “We have been working with the NRA folks, so we have language that will serve everybody’s needs, and it’s ready to go.”

While the Senate passed the 3D gun ban last year, the House did not approve it. But last week, Mattiello said, “All issues evolve, and I think that it’s the year that we look at that.”

Also, Mattiello noted he is the sponsor of legislation that would establish a “computer-aided dispatch records management system.” He said, “We have been working very closely with the State Police colonel, and we are going to work really hard to have an integrated system so every department has access to the reports of every other department.”

Frank Saccoccio -- president of the Rhode Island 2nd Amendment Coalition, the state’s NRA affiliate -- said the group is “neutral” on the 3D gun bill and would be neutral on the police chief notification bill “if they clear up ambiguity in the law.”

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He said the intent of the computer system bill is probably good, but the group is concerned that information “could be used to create a database of people with concealed carry permits and people who own firearms.”

Saccocio criticized the treasurer’s plan to pull state pension investments in gun manufacturing companies.

“Seth Magaziner is running for higher office, so he should not weigh in on something he doesn't have any direct firsthand knowledge of,” he said. “If it is legal and making a good return, his job is to maximize Rhode Island’s return and not change it and lose money for political gain.”

Both Magaziner and Gorbea are considered likely candidates for governor in 2022.

Magaziner said $235,121 being removed from gun and prison investments represents .003 percent of the $8.7 billion pension fund, and the money will be reinvested across the broader market. “We can do the right thing, the moral thing, and it will not have any material impact on the financial health of the retirement system at all,” he said.

On Wednesday night, gun-control advocates in red shirts and gun-rights advocates in yellow shirts packed the House Judiciary Committee hearing.

The State Police Superintendent, Colonel James M. Manni, said 3D guns are “an issue on the West Coast, and it’s coming to the East Coast.”

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Manni also spoke about the benefits of the proposed public safety computer system. Representative Arthur J. Corvese, a North Providence Democrat, asked if the computer system could be a precursor to a statewide gun registry.

Manni said, “No sir, I do not. And that is prohibited.” Corvese said, “You’re right. It’s prohibited by federal law -- so is marijuana.”




Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.