Unusually, the Judiciary Committees of the Rhode Island House and Senate scheduled hearings on a slate of gun bills for the same time on the same day. The bills, being heard in the charged atmosphere created in the wake of the Parkland, Florida shooting and the astounding student led activism that followed, have Second Amendment activists worried and gun control advocates hopeful that Americans have finally had enough senseless slaughter and that some legislative fixes are on the way.
The form these legislative fixes might take is still being discussed. On the agenda in both chambers of the Rhode Island General Assembly were red flag bills, which would allow police and/or family members to have guns removed from people judged to be a danger to themselves or others. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, represented at the hearings last night wearing red shirts, support red flag legislation. Those wearing yellow shirts, representing the Rhode Island 2nd Amendment Coalition, do not. The red flag bills have also raised concerns with civil libertarians and the ACLU.
Further, both chambers discussed bills to make the sale and use of bump stocks illegal. Bump stocks are cheap modifications that can allow a semi-automatic rifle fire between as many as 400 to 800 rounds per minute. Again, yellow shirts are for the most part against legislation that limits their access to bump stocks, red shirts and orange shirts (representing the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV)) want bump stocks to be made illegal.
Security was heightened at the Rhode Island State House. Long lines stretched from the sidewalk on Smith Street to the metal detectors and waiting Capitol Police at the State House entrance. People trying to get in the building for legislation that might have had nothing to do with guns waited nearly an hour to get in. Meanwhile, inside the State House, staff and security were making arbitrary decisions about who could sit in what rooms and when.
For instance, the Senate Judiciary was hearing testimony on a bill to ban assault weapons, which the House Judiciary may take up later in the session. As a result, room 313 of the State House, where the Senate hearing took place, seemed specially targeted by both sides.
Outside room 313, I met a group of women, from both sides of the issue, who had gotten to the room early and secured seating. A Senate clerk, or was it is a Capitol Police Officer, cleared the room, putting everyone out in the hallway. Now all the seats inside were up for grabs again, and a long line was forming in the hallway. When I asked the clerk who made the decision to empty the room, he pointed to the officer. When I asked the officer, he pointed to the clerk. Both denied clearing out the room. One of them wasn’t being truthful, I think.
Upon being allowed to re-enter the room, there was an scuffle for seats. A women in a yellow shirt simply dumped the coat of a woman wearing an orange shirt onto the ground and took the seat. An argument and even some physical jostling resulted.
Two floors down a man who claimed to be working for Leo Skenyon, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello‘s Chief of Staff, emptied room 101, where the House Judiciary meeting was to be held, at 2:45pm, claiming that there was a meeting of the Legislative Commission to Study the Water Resources Board and Water Supply about to happen there. I asked why the room was being emptied.
“For the meeting at 2:30,” said the man.
“Why are things happening different today?” I asked. “Why couldn’t people sit through the water board meeting if they wanted to? It’s an open meeting.”
“We have to make room for people who want to be there for the water board meeting,” said the man.
“That doesn’t make sense,” I replied. I counted a dozen people in the hallway, room 101 holds many times that number. “Besides, it’s already 2:45 and the Water Board meeting isn’t taking place here,” I said. “The room is empty.”
“It’s at 3,” replied the man.
The man was not being truthful. The meeting had been moved to the Senate Lounge. The man locked the door, keeping people out of the empty room, not allowing them to wait inside.
“Why is this happening – again?” I asked as people were shuffled out into the hallway – again.
“You’ll have to talk to the Speaker’s Chief of Staff,” said the manSecon, now very annoyed with me.
“This comes from Leo Skenyon?” I asked “Why?”
“You’ll have to ask him,” I was told.
“This isn’t right,” I said to those now outside the hearing room. “This isn’t how things usually go here.”
People are usually allowed to sit in the room before meetings start. In fact, people often sit through meetings they might not be all that interested in to secure better seating for the meeting taking place in the same room afterwards.
Meanwhile, in room 313, things were not going very well. No one was monitoring the behavior of people in the room. More than two women told me they were being verbally bullied and harassed by men and women wearing the yellow 2nd Amendment Coalition tee shirts in the hearing room before the committee meeting began. A woman told me she was afraid to take off her coat and reveal the red tee shirt beneath, because of the behavior of some of the people on the other side.
Yesterday, Rhode Island gun extremists came to the statehouse to oppose stronger gun laws. They tried to intimidate @MomsDemand volunteers and gun violence survivors by being physically and verbally aggressive. THIS is who’s shaping our nation’s gun laws.https://t.co/59uJLooWZU
— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) March 7, 2018
The Senate hearing lasted well over nine hours, while the House hearing lasted just under four hours. Here’s all the video from the two hearings:
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