While a handful of rural towns in Rhode Island have introduced second amendment sanctuary resolutions, under the premise that their Second Amendment rights are at risk, the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV) reiterates that none of the gun safety measures currently up for review by the legislature violate the Constitution.
However, the Rhode Island General Assembly, under the leadership of Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominik Ruggerio, appears to be headed towards referring these measures for “further study,” rather than allowing their respective judiciary committees to vote on whether the bills can go to the full floor for the full democratic process of a vote. The contrast between our legislative process and that of New Zealand is both stark and instructive. New Zealand suffered one horrific mass shooting by an individual with an assault weapon. The Parliament in that country promptly voted to ban private ownership of assault weapons by a vote of 119-1.
This is not a matter of the United States Constitution or the Rhode Island Constitution, although gun manufacturers and gun advocates have done an excellent job of misleading the rest of us into believing that this is a Second Amendment issue. As a matter of law, NO federal or state court has decided that either constitution creates the right to own an assault weapon, bring a gun onto public school property, or indeed to carry a weapon concealed or openly in public. The United States Supreme Court, in an opinion crafted by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, ruled in the Heller case that the Second Amendment entitles citizens to own and maintain handguns at their home or owned place of business for the purpose of personal protection. Yet in that very same opinion, Justice Scalia emphasized that the right created by the Second Amendment, like all rights, was not unlimited. Rather, one’s Second Amendment right was limited and reasonable restrictions as to gun ownership are allowed and can survive constitutional scrutiny.
The Rhode Island Constitution also contains a right to bear arms, but our state Supreme Court in the Mosby case ruled that this right did not extend to individual gun ownership outside of the maintenance of a militia.
A few weeks ago, the federal court of appeals in Boston ruled on the gun lobby’s challenge to the Massachusetts law banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines in the Bay State. The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in an opinion by Senior Judge Bruce Selya, a Rhode Islander, unanimously upheld the law as being a constitutionally permitted limitation on the right to bear arms. One of the judges on the three-judge panel was retired United States Supreme Court Justice David Souter, sitting by designation. The assault weapons ban proposed by Governor Gina Raimondo and Attorney General Peter Neronha is sufficiently similar to the Massachusetts law that there is no doubt as to its constitutionality.
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“The Coalition knows that if these bills were allowed the democratic process of a vote they would undoubtedly pass in both chambers,” said RICAGV President, Linda Finn. “Further, we know that these bills are the will of the public–with 82 percent of Rhode Islanders supporting a ban on guns in schools.”
The Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence sincerely hopes it will not take a tragic incident to move our legislature to action. We must be proactive and allow these measures a vote instead of using the false narrative that Second Amendment rights will be violated upon passage as an excuse from proactively making our communities safer.