Gun control advocates are again pushing for a RI ‘assault weapon ban.’ Now, the AFL-CIO is helping.

Katherine Gregg

Providence Journal

Thursday February 8, 2024   


PROVIDENCE – The battle began anew Thursday for an assault-weapons ban and safe-storage requirements for firearms, with organized labor taking a lead role in the 2024 election-year drive.

The assault-weapons ban may still be a tough sell.

But this year 28 out of the 38 state senators have co-sponsored the companion bill to require the locked storage of guns that was born of avoidable Rhode Island tragedies, including the 2022 shooting death of a Johnston teenager at the hands of a friend showing off his uncle’s unlocked guns.

“Too many American tragedies – suicides, unintentional shootings involving children, mass shootings – start with someone getting their hands on someone else’s gun without permission. My bill would give gun owners a stronger incentive to take common-sense precautions that make gun ownership safer,” said Rep. Justine Caldwell, the lead sponsor of the House version of the safe-storage bill in a statement about it.

“We know that 70-80% of school shootings, unintended shootings and suicides by children are from unsecured firearms at home or a known family member or friend,” echoed the lead Senate sponsor, Pam Lauria.

Patrick Crowley, the secretary-treasurer of the 80,000-member R.I. AFL-CIO, also had a central role at Thursday’s State House news conference to promote the bills and pledges organized labor’s support.

“The same dark-money forces that fund anti-union politicians also fund the gun lobby,” said Crowley, citing national accounts of NRA activities.

“But gun violence is a worker-safety issue, which makes it a union issue, and that’s why the Rhode Island AFL-CIO supports these important bills,” Crowley said at a State House news conference co-sponsored by the National Education Association Rhode Island and others backing the renewed push by the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICGV) for gun safety legislation.

The gun lobby has disputed that characterization at legislative hearings for years, asserting that neither bill would reduce gun violence in any way.

But Melissa Carden, the executive director of RICAGV, disagreed, saying: “We know if we get our two bills to the floor – secure storage and an assault-weapons ban – they will pass.”

These are the gun bills advocates are pushing for this year

Thursday proved to be a busy day at the State House, with multiple news conferences within the same one-hour span covering payday lending, reforms to public records law and the AARP legislative agenda. Competing for attention, the gun-control advocates focused in on these bills:

  • House Bill 7217 to ban the possession, sale, and transfer of firearms defined as “assault weapons,” with exceptions for those who already possess a legally obtained assault weapon when the proposed law takes effect, who register it with – or transfer it to – their local police department or who render it permanently inoperable.
  • Senate Bill 2202,House Bill 7373 to require – as Massachusetts does – the safe storage of firearms and provide civil and criminal penalties for violations. In the event the weapon is used in a crime or causes injury or death, as has happened in more than one case in Rhode Island, the gun owner could be fined up to $5,000 and imprisoned for up to five years.

What are the arguments for and against reform?

In recent years, the lawmakers heard the anguished pleas for action by the mother of 16-year-old Dillon Viens, who was killed by a friend playing with one of his uncle’s unlocked guns, and the sister of Allyson Dosreis, who died by suicide with an unlocked gun belonging to her partner days after he abruptly ended their 10-year relationship.

“I believe [that] if the gun had been secured, it would have prevented my sister from acting impulsively. It would have bought some time and sometimes, when you can interrupt a suicide … you can save a life,” Allyson Dosreis’ sister, Patti Alley, told legislators.

The counter-argument by gun owners at these last hearings: locking a gun up overnight make it less immediately available to confront an intruder.

“You never know when something bad is going to happen,” Tonya Pereira of Cranston told lawmakers at last year’s hearing. “You don’t know if somebody’s going to break into your house.”

“If you sleep with a gun by your bedside, you have every right to do so,” she said. “The government has no right to come into our private homes and tell us what we can do with these inanimate objects that we have legally purchased.”

Under current Rhode Island law, a gun owner is criminally liable only if a child gets access to and discharges a gun causing injury to himself or herself or others.

Of the proposed assault weapons ban, Rep. Jason Knight said: “We banned machine guns decades ago because they were a danger to society …. They are a scourge, and there is no reason why we should tolerate them in Rhode Island.”

In his turn at the microphone, Crowley drew a verbal rundown of the union members a victim would encounter at every stop were there ever to be a mass shooting in Rhode Island, from the 911 operator who answers the call to the first responders, EMTs, ambulance driver, and triage team of union nurses.”

“Then the victim is rushed into the operating room, where the only person in the room who isn’t a union member is the doctor …[and they all give] it everything they’ve got to keep this human being on the table in front of them alive.”

And then it is quiet, Crowley said. And then someone says what time it is. And then the doctor says “I’ll go speak with the family.”

“But the first thing that happened is that someone got their hands on a gun and did something horrible,” he said, in his prepared remarks. “Pass these laws.”


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