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Sides in R.I. ready to face off over gun control issue

PROVIDENCE — A debate over gun control prompted by the Newtown school massacre in Connecticut is heating up in Rhode Island, where gun rights supporters plan to rally this week in opposition to a proposed ban on the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons and change in the way handgun permits are awarded.

Last week a Senate hearing on the legislation attracted hundreds of gun owners to the State House, and Wednesday’s hearing in the House is expected to do the same. Supporters, including a group called Mothers and Others Against Gun ­Violence, plan to gather at the State House as well to urge lawmakers to pass the bills.

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The assault weapons ban would outlaw the sale, purchase or possession of semiautomatic assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Weapons or magazines legally acquired before July would be exempt from the prohibition.

The proposals would also stiffen penalties for a variety of gun crimes, require all handgun permits to go through the attorney general’s office, and create a task force to review state gun laws and the use of mental health records in background checks.

The December school shootings in Newtown, Conn., led Governor Lincoln Chafee and top lawmakers to take another look at gun violence measures. The bills have the support of Chafee, an independent, as well as Attorney General Peter ­Kilmartin, House Speaker ­Gordon Fox and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, all Democrats.

Representative Michael Chippendale, Republican from Foster and an opponent of the bills, called the House ‘‘hostile territory’’ for his side, but said he hopes the Senate will reject at least some of the measures.

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