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‘The time has come to act’: R.I. leaders push for assault weapons ban

Rhode Island activists and lawmakers rally for a proposed ban on "assault-style weapons" and other gun legislation at the State House in Providence on Thursday.Kylie Cooper for The Boston Globe

PROVIDENCE — Governor Daniel J. McKee, Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos, Deputy Attorney General Adi Goldstein, and other state officials and faith leaders led a rally at the State House with about 150 advocates from Moms Demand Action, Students Demand Action, and the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence in support of gun legislation that would ban assault weapons and require secure storage of all firearms.

“The time for words has passed,” said Goldstein. “The bills have been heard year after year. They have been debated again and again. The arguments are always the same. What has changed is the body count, and it keeps going up. The time has come to act.”


Last year, the tragic shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and a racist mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., were the catalysts that pushed the General Assembly to overwhelmingly support three gun bills — limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds, prohibiting the open carry of long guns in public, and raising the age from 18 to 21 to buy long guns and ammunition. McKee signed the bills last June. Since then, the attorney general’s office has brought 83 cases of people illegally possessing high-capacity gun magazines.

Bills to ban assault weapons and require gun owners to store their firearms safely, or face civil and criminal penalties, didn’t move forward last year.

But now, with new mass shootings across the country, more than one every day, supporters of the legislation said it’s time.

The governor and lieutenant governor urged the backing of what they called “common-sense” legislation.

Governor Dan McKee speaks during a rally for a proposed ban on "assault-style weapons" and other gun legislation at the State House on Thursday.Kylie Cooper for The Boston Globe

“The safe storage bill is a school-shooting prevention bill. The safe-storage bill is a suicide prevention bill. The safe storage bill is a domestic-violence prevention bill,” said Senator Pamela J. Lauria, an advocate with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and sponsor of the storage bill. “It’s a bill to prevent accidental shooting deaths of and by children, and it helps to prevent gun violence. I like to call it the seatbelt bill of gun ownership.”


In his 27 years teaching history and civics at East Providence High School, Secretary of State Gregg Amore recalled the harrowing experience of going through lockdowns and active shooter drills. He also recalled history and how machine guns were first taxed and then banned, because of the carnage they caused.

“The vast majority of Rhode Islanders want these laws,” said Representative Jason Knight, the lead sponsor of the House bill to ban assault weapons. “Last year, when we passed the high-capacity gun magazine ban, not one person who voted for that lost their seat” in the election.

“Over time, as things change, as the carnage has increased, as we are suffering under this epidemic of violence nationwide, one a day, two a day, the entire year ... people understand that we need to have some change,” Knight said. “In democracy, this is how it works. It’s change from the bottom up.”

The bills were heard in the judiciary committees in the House and Senate last month, and have been held for further study.

“Let’s bring these bills to the floor. Politics is pressure, and it’s time to apply pressure,” Knight added, as the crowd roared in approval and rose to their feet.

Members of Students Demand Action speak during a rally for a proposed ban on "assault-style weapons" and other gun legislation at the State House in Providence on Thursday.Kylie Cooper for The Boston Globe

Amanda Milkovits can be reached at Follow her @AmandaMilkovits.