Oped: Why Grandfathering High-Capacity Magazines is Unacceptable

“If the bill is amended to include a grandfather clause, it will become unacceptable, and the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV) will no longer support its passage…”

Rhode Island News: Oped: Why Grandfathering High-Capacity Magazines is Unacceptable

We are hearing that Democratic members of the Rhode Island House of Representatives are seeking to amend the Large-Capacity Feeding Device Ban of 2022 (H6614) to grandfather in possession of magazines already owned by Rhode Islanders. This would undo the bill’s purpose by allowing large-capacity magazines (LCMs) to proliferate in our state. If the bill is amended to include a grandfather clause, it will become unacceptable, and the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV) will no longer support its passage. 

Grandfathering in preowned LCMs presents an unacceptable risk to the health and safety of Rhode Islanders. Magazines that hold ten rounds or more are dangerous and significantly increase the deadliness of shootings. We have seen this time and again in mass shootings across the country. 

Eulalio “Lalo” Diaz, Jr., who acted as the Uvalde’s coroner, saw firsthand the damage that LCMs inflict on the human body. Diaz says, “It’s something you never want to see and it’s something you don’t, you cannot, prepare for. It’s a picture that’s going to stay in my head forever, and that’s where I’d like for it to stay.” Diaz found decapitated children’s bodies strewn across the floor of Robb Elementary. He saw bodies mutilated so badly by gunfire that parents had to submit to DNA testing to identify their children. 

RICAGV cannot accept any amendment to this legislation that makes this scene more likely to play out in Rhode Island. RICAGV Board Chair Sydney Montstream-Quas says, “A 2018 study showed that nearly 40% of guns used in serious violent crimes, including murders of law enforcement officers, are equipped with large-capacity magazines. These magazines add to the brutality of gun violence in our  communities.” LCMs are simply too dangerous to be legally owned in Rhode Island. 

Grandfathering would make the law unenforceable. Most LCMs do not have marks indicating when they were manufactured or sold. There is no way for law enforcement to tell the difference between an LCM that was legally purchased before the law’s passage and one purchased illegally the day before. Grandfathering in previously-owned LCMs would pose significant logistical challenges that would make the law’s prohibitions against possession almost impossible to enforce. For this reason, 

New York and California lawmakers repealed grandfathering provisions in their laws at the urging of law enforcement. 

Blake Graham, Special Agent Supervisor for the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Firearms explains how difficult the law was to enforce before the state’s grandfather clause was repealed, “Agents do not have the ability to identify whether the LCMs at issue were legally purchased, or are the product of an illegal transfer.” He added, “Also, the presence of large numbers of LCMs in the state–even if lawfully owned by law-abiding citizens–increases the potential for criminal theft or illegal trafficking of such magazines.” RICAGV shares this concern, especially in the absence of a safe storage law in the state. The risk to the general population of Rhode Island posed by grandfathering is simply too great. 

And despite protestations otherwise, if the LCM ban passes without a grandfather clause, it would present a minimal burden to current owners of LCMs in Rhode Island. The bill would allow a six-month window where they could make simple modifications to their existing magazines or purchase new ten-round magazines (which are inexpensive and widely available). 

Every major gun maker offers “state-compliant” weapons with ten-round magazines that are legal in states like California, Connecticut and Maryland. Aftermarket magazine producers offer ten-round magazines for less than $20. And if someone wants to alter their existing magazine to make it compliant with the law, they can purchase a magazine block that costs between $5 to $10. This is not a large ask compared to asking a parent to offer their DNA so their child’s body can be identified. 

Grandfathering LCMs would represent a wholesale capitulation to the gun lobby. It would leave Rhode Island at high risk for a mass shooting event and make future attempts to limit the supply of LCMs in Rhode Island more difficult. If the law is amended in this fashion, it will not make Rhode Islanders safer from the scourge of gun violence, and RICAGV could not support it. 2022 is an election year, and RICAGV will be watching these developments closely as we plan our election strategy.

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