Changes to gun laws being considered by the General Assembly have generated strong reactions on both sides of the debate, reflecting the national controversy heightened by the shooting massacre of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
Rhode Island gun dealers, like many of their counterparts across the country, are among the most vocal opponents of stronger gun laws.
Nine pieces of proposed gun-safety legislation are a collaborative effort of Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, law-enforcement officials and General Assembly leadership. They include proposals to ban the manufacture, sale, purchase or possession of semi-automatic assault weapons; increasing penalties for carrying a stolen firearm when committing a crime and making the attorney general’s office the only licensing and permitting authority to carry a pistol or revolver.
“I’m opposed to the bills, absolutely. They wouldn’t do anything to stop or reduce crime,” said Paul Connolly, owner of Bullseye Shooting Supplies, who has been in the firearms business for 35 years, including 29 years at his current Woonsocket location.
“They would just make criminals out of law-abiding citizens. Do you think everyone will register their guns? People don’t trust the government,” said Connolly. “The second amendment wasn’t put in there for hunting. It was put in there because people had fought an unjust government to gain their independence.”
It’s likely at least some of the bills will fail to win General Assembly approval this year. Last week they were all still bottled up in committees in the House and Senate.
“All nine bills in the gun package, including those dealing with mental-health issues, have been reviewed by the House Judiciary Committee during an extensive public hearing,” said Larry Berman, a spokesman for House Democratic leadership. “It is Speaker [Gordon D.] Fox’s hope that some of the bills will be brought forward for full House votes this year, while others will need further study over the off-session. He is in process of discussing these bills with the members of his leadership team and the Judiciary Committee members.”