While state legislators debate a proposed gun registration bill, Mayor Scott Avedisian and Chief of Police Stephen McCartney do not support the legislation and say there are other ways to address the current gun control issues.
“I am very skeptical of a local registry and I am not in favor of this legislation,” said Avedisian in an email. “If there is to be a registry, I would favor one for the whole state. In fact, I also would favor one licensing procedure for the whole state. There is no need to create 39 separate registries and have 39 separate licensing procedures in a state our size.”
“That proposed legislation does nothing to go after the criminal problem and unnecessarily penalizes the responsible gun owner,” said McCartney in an email message. “We need to stay away from onerous legislative regulation that penalize responsible, law-abiding gun owners and creating second amendment controversies.”
Second amendment rights were on full display during a press conference turned rally, organized by Rep. Doreen Costa at the State House last Thursday. Following a Facebook post by the representative asking her supporters to attend the event, more than 500 Rhode Islanders filled the State House rotunda to show their opposition over required gun registration and a mandatory fee of $100 per gun.
Rep. Linda Finn, who proposed the legislation, sees registration as a way to help law enforcement when it comes to crimes committed with guns.
“There is no record kept of purchases and by state law, we are not allowed to keep that information,” said Finn in a phone interview. “[This legislation] would provide a way for local police to know who owns guns and are able to track if they should.”
Finn also feels that a registration could prevent tragedies such as Sandy Hook from occurring.
“It would just put up a red flag if someone went out and bought 10 guns,” said Finn.
Costa, who had received more than 3,400 emails in support of her efforts as of Friday morning, sees this legislation as unnecessary and ineffective since mandatory background checks, limits on the number of guns one can purchase and a mandatory 10-day wait period are already in existence.
“My problem is you have lawmakers that want to pass laws that have no idea what they are talking about,” said Costa. While the National Rifle Association led a presentation to educate legislators on current practices, Costa said only eight to 10 were in attendance.
Instead of focusing on current, law-abiding gun owners, Costa, Avedisian and McCartney feel there are other solutions and other issues that should be focused on.
Avedisian is in support of strengthening laws that are already in existence concerning background checks, such as the addition of checks for mental health issues and closing the gun show loopholes.
McCartney and Costa also feel mental illness needs to become a factor of background checks.
“This will be challenging work to open the dialogue with the mental health community and get their support in order to overcome the HIPPA concerns that should not stand in the way of ensuring that a firearm does not get into the hands of someone who is suffering from some mental health issue that would make him/her prone to violence,” said McCartney.
Costa agrees that it will be tough, but mental illness is something to consider because many of the shooters in recent tragedies have been mentally ill.
“The HIPAA laws protect them,” said Costa, “but who is going to protect the children?”
Costa feels the main concern of legislators should be the children and the safety of school buildings.
“The real focus needs to be on meaningful legislation that will go after criminals who are responsible for gun violence and keeping guns out of the hands of people who are mentally unstable,” said McCartney, who supports law enforcement being given access to check NCICS for mental histories. According to the chief, only 12 states have such access.
McCartney would also support legislation banning the sale of armor piercing ammunition and body armor to anyone but military or law enforcement, creating a federal firearms offender registry, mandatory five-day wait periods to complete handgun purchases, increasing resources for law enforcement to enforce federal violations of the Brady Act and stiffening penalties to those who commit crimes with a firearm at the state level.
While Finn believes in the creation of a gun registry, she knows that more needs to be done in terms of gun control.
“I think that there needs to be a multi-prong approach; I think [gun registration] is just a step that needs to be taken,” said Finn.
At the state level, a working group consisting of the attorney general’s office, the speaker’s office, the senate president, the governor’s office and law enforcement have been reviewing the current practices with the hope to present legislation addressing the issue. As of now, the group has not presented anything.
However, according to Amy Kempe of the Attorney General’s office, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin has presented bills that would prohibit possession of a firearm by a minor and possession of a firearm with an altered or obliterated manufacturer’s number, but has not taken a position on any other proposed legislation regarding gun control.