McKee proposes R.I. ban on assault weapons

PROVIDENCE – Gov. Daniel J. McKee joined other state leaders on Tuesday at the Statehouse in proposing a ban on assault-style weapons in Rhode Island.

McKee, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, Secretary of State Gregg Amore, Attorney General Peter Neronha and General Treasurer James Diossa all said they want to ban the sale of assault-style weapons in Rhode Island to help keep communities safe.

McKee is proposing legislation that would ban the possession, sale and transfer of assault weapons. Possession of assault weapons owned on the effective date of the bill would be “grandfathered” subject to certain registration provisions. Violators would be subject to up to 10 years in prison or a fine of up to $10,000 and forfeiture of the weapon.

If passed by the General Assembly, Rhode Island would become the 10th state to enact a law banning the sale, manufacture and transfer of assault weapons, joining California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and the District of Columbia.

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“I want to say this loud and clear: Rhode Island is ready for an assault-weapons ban to help keep our communities safe. And as governor, I’m ready to sign that bill into law,” said McKee.

The bill is still being crafted and will formally be introduced soon, he said. There have been similar proposals to ban assault weapons over the past decade in Rhode Island that have never garnered enough support among legislative leaders.

Last June McKee signed three bills to strengthen gun control in Rhode Island. The bills banned firearm magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, raised the minimum age for buying guns from 18 to 21 and prohibited loaded rifles and shotguns from being carried in public.

McKee said Tuesday that Rhode Island is “ready to take a stand,” build on last year’s progress and take meaningful action to address gun violence.

“Too many communities have been shattered by devastating acts of violence because someone was in possession of a weapon that simply should not be on our streets,” he said.

Amore said he sponsored and co-sponsored bills to ban assault weapons for a decade in the General Assembly. Amore, who worked as a teacher, was elected as a state lawmaker in 2012, a month before the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut.

With lockdowns and active shooter trainings in schools, Amore said, “We have normalized what is not normal.” Amore, who became secretary of state in January, vowed to do everything he could to get the legislation “across the finish line.”

“We have created this environment that is just, just terrible,” he said. “Anything we can do as public policymakers to mitigate that is positive.”

House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio are open to considering a ban but want to hear what is said at the hearings that will be held, according to their offices. At past hearings on gun control bills, gun rights activists have packed the hearing rooms and hallways at the Statehouse, chanting to show their opposition to the measures.

Rep. Jason Knight, a Barrington Democrat, said it’s time for a vote.

“The time is now,” he said. “We have debated. We have argued. We have held our hearings and we have heard from the public. And now it is time to vote, and that is what I’m asking our leaders in the House and Senate to do.”

(Material from The Associated Press was used in this report)