2012-12-20 / Front Page

Gun control a priority for lawmakers

Sandy Hook tragedy stirs talk of firearm legislation

A lone gunman forced his way into Connecticut’s Shady Hook Elementary School Friday, leaving 20 children dead before the shooter turned the gun on himself.

The tragedy left millions of Americans in shock. “It is unfathomable that the words shooting and elementary school are even in the same sentence,” Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said.

In the aftermath, the country looked on in sorrow as the 6- and 7-year-old victims were buried, and as students in Newtown returned to school. Now in the wake of the funerals, elected representatives nationwide are scrambling to find ways to prevent a shooting spree from happening again.

“Our Founding Fathers created the Second Amendment with a different weapon in mind – rifles and muskets – not semiautomatic rifles with high-capacity magazines,” said Rep. Deb Ruggiero, who serves Jamestown and Middletown in the state House of Representatives.

As he entered the schoolhouse, the 20-year-old alleged killer was equipped with three semiautomatic firearms: two handguns and an M4 carbine. The M4 is the same type of assault rifle that U.S. soldiers are using in the war in Afghanistan. He also had a shotgun in his car.

According to U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, banning assault weapons that Army infantrymen have at their disposal is common sense. “I have long supported proposals to end the sale of assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines,” Whitehouse said. “I will continue to support these common-sense proposals going forward.”

Whitehouse is also working to close the gun-show loophole. Because federal law only requires criminal background checks for guns sold through licensed firearm dealers, the gun-show loophole refers to purchasing guns from private dealers. While some states have made their own laws to close the loophole, there are still 33 states that have taken no action. (Rhode Island is one of seven states that have adopted the strictest rules, requiring universal background checks on all firearm sales.)

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline has been an advocate for stricter gun control since his days as a legislator in the General Assembly. He continued to fight for gun safety as mayor of Providence, and now as a U.S. representative in Congress he is co-sponsoring several bills aimed to thwart firearms from getting into the wrong hands.

Along with working to close the gun-show loophole on a federal level, Cicilline is working to keep firearms out of the hands of sex offenders.

While his priority is on firearms themselves, Cicilline is also taking steps to control ammunition. He would like to stop the online sale of ammo, as well as prohibit the possession of large-capacityammunition feeding devices. He also wants to improve background checks.

“We need to keep kids safe,” said Cicilline. “We need to enhance and improve public safety. It’s not just one single law that will fix this problem in its entirety. It’s going to take some work.”

Cicilline is also in the class of legislators who find banning assault weapons an obvious step that federal lawmakers must take.

“This is common-sense gun safety,” he said. “Assaults weapons are for the military. They are weapons of war. The only use of assault rifles and high-capacity weapons is to terrorize people or cause a great number of deaths.”

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed agrees. “I have long supported sensible ways to control firearms, including a ban on assault weapons, limits on magazine sizes, and closing the gun-show loophole,” the Jamestown resident said. “These are the types of sensible reforms that are necessary.”

Reed has a more thorough understanding of assault weapons than Whitehouse, Cicilline and Ruggiero. A retired officer in the U.S. Army, Reed was an Army Ranger for most of the ’70s. Following active duty, he joined the Reserves until his retirement in 1991. He was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division and an infantry platoon leader. Reed doesn’t want citizens to be able to purchase guns that are intended for combat.

“It doesn’t eliminate the rights of a hunter or recreational shooters, but it takes these military-style weapons out of commerce and off our streets,” he said.

According to Reed, the federal government had a ban on assault weapons for many years, but it was allowed to lapse under the Bush administration.

Reed’s press secretary said Congress in 1994 banned the possession and transfer of semiautomatic assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition-feeding devices that hold more than 10 rounds. (Excluding law enforcement and military personnel.) The bill expired in September 2004. The Senate introduced a bill last year to reauthorize the ban. Reed was one of 10 U.S. senators co-sponsoring the legislation, but the bill never went anywhere.

New legislation is expected when Congress begins its 2013 session. Whitehouse and Reed plan to co-sponsor it.

The legislation will be introduced by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein when the Senate reconvenes next month. An identical bill is expected to be introduced by the House of Representatives.

“We’re crafting this one,” Feinstein told NBC. “It’s being done with care. It’ll be ready on the first day. It will ban the sale, transfer, importation and possession. Not retroactively, but prospectively. It will ban the same for big clips, drums or strips of more than 10 bullets. There will be a bill.”

Feinstein, a Democrat from California, was an advocate for the 1994 ban. She said the bill that she plans to push forward has been “perfected.” While nearly 900 firearms will be exempt from the ban, the goal is to get “war weapons” off the streets.

According to Whitehouse’s press secretary, the senator will “specifi- cally co-sponsor” the Feinstein bill after it is introduced. President Barack Obama is expected to support the ban, also.

“I respect the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms,” said Cicilline. “But the court has never said that it can’t be regulated. It’s our responsibility as public officers to enact legislation to keep people safe. People have the right to live free from gun violence, a right to go to school or a movie theatre without the fear of being shot. I believe banning assault weapons reflects the position of most Americans.”

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