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After committee rejection, RI Senate approves high-capacity magazine ban

PROVIDENCE — In a stunning turn of events on Tuesday, Senate leaders derailed an attempt by pro-gun legislators to scuttle a proposed large-capacity magazine ban and called for immediate, final and previously unscheduled votes on that and two other gun-control bills.

After hours of emotional debate, the Senate passed the proposed ban on firearm magazines containing more than 10 rounds of ammunition on a 25-to-11 vote.

Next stop for the previously House-passed bill: the governor's desk to be signed into law, making Rhode Island the 11th state to place size limits on firearm magazines.

Senate Democrats – on a series of 24-to-11 votes – beat back one proposed exemption after another to the ban.

The Senate also approved - and sent to the governor - House-passed bills to raise the age limit to buy firearms and ammunition from 18 to 21 and ban the carrying of loaded shotguns in public.

The day had its twists and turns.

The Senate version of a House-passed bill to to ban firearm magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition met defeat in the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 6-to-6 vote earlier in the day.

The vote elicited cheers of triumph from the gun-rights demonstrators just beyond the entryway.

Those voting for the bill included: Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey, Senate Whip Maryellen Goodwin, Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Cynthia Coyne and Senators Ana Quezada and Dawn Euer.

Those voting against the bill included Republicans Gordon Rogers and Jessica de la Cruz and Democrats Stephen Archambault, Leonidas Raptakis, John Burke and Frank Lombardi.

Immediately after the vote, Linda Finn, the former head of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, tweeted: "Senator Burke sought the @RICAGV1 endorsement by agreeing to ban HCM’s over 10 rounds. He won the D primary based upon that endorsement and our support in his district ... then rescinded it after the primary."

But Ruggerio told The Journal: "Stay tuned."

"I am pretty shocked and I am staying tuned," said gun-control activist Jennifer Boylan, taking her cue from Ruggerio's words.

It wasn't long before the next move became clear.

McCaffrey, the Senate majority leader, asked the full Senate to take up the House-passed version of the large-capacity magazine ban on "immediate consideration."

Republicans objected, but more than two-thirds of the other senators present and voting gave their assent.

By nightfall, the full Senate was debating – and on its way to approving and sending to the governor – the separate House-passed version of the bill to ban firearm magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

In an emotional speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Cynthia Coyne, the retired Rhode Island State Police trooper who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, told colleagues:

"Critics will claim that no law can prevent the horrific mass killing we’ve seen in Buffalo, Uvalde, and so many other places. But the reality is that we can take meaningful action to reduce the risk of such a tragedy here in our state.

"Large-capacity magazines enable killing on a massive scale. That is their sole purpose. As such, they have no place on our streets and in our society."

Sen. Frank Ciccone, a longtime Providence gun dealer, tried and failed to convince colleagues to "grandfather in" any large-scale magazines already owned by Rhode Islanders.

Without a grandfather clause, Sen. Frank Lombardi called the proposed new law an "illegal taking."

Others said it would turn "law abiding citizens into criminals." Archambault, an unsuccessful past candidate for attorney general, went a step farther.

"It's not the law-abiding citizens with the 50-round magazines that are killing people. It's mentally ill people ... Those people are a whole other story," he said.

But opponents cited the letter that Attorney General Peter Neronha sent lawmakers hours ahead of last week's House vote on its own version of the bill. His letter said, in part:

"Let me be clear – we need to reduce the supply of high-capacity magazines in Rhode Island.

"The addition of a grandfather clause would render this legislation unenforceable and functionally meaningless."

He explained: "Most high-capacity magazines do not have identifying marks, serial numbers or registration numbers, which could be used to indicate when they were manufactured or sold.

"Because law enforcement would be unable to verify whether an individual possessed a magazine prior to the effective date of this legislation, such an exemption would serve as a readily available defense for every prospective criminal defendant.

"Rhode Island should learn from the experience of states such as California and New York, which have both repealed previously enacted grandfathering provisions for this very reason," Neronha said.

Republican Sen. Jessica de la Cruz slammed Neronha for "politicizing" his office.

"It's actually quite disgusting and gross," she said.

The Senate rejected Ciccone's proposed amendment – and others to exempt victims of domestic violence and those with concealed carry permits from the large capacity magazine ban – on a series of 24-to-11 votes.

Those who currently own the devices would have 180 days to convert them, surrender them to state or local police or sell or transfer them to people in states where they are legal.

The Senate also added two other bills in the gun package that won Senate Judiciary approval earlier in the day to its Tuesday night calendar.

One would raise the minimum age from 18 to 21 to buy a firearm or ammunition. The other would ban people from openly carrying loaded shotguns or rifles. All could be headed to the governor's desk, to be signed into law, before the night is over.

The eight-member Judiciary Committee is dominated 5-to-3 by senators who had "A" ratings from the National Rifle Association in 2020, so passage would have hinged, at least in part, on Ruggerio and his two top lieutenants dropping into the Senate Judiciary Committee long enough to cast their own votes in favor of the package.

They did so, but their votes weren't enough to swing the vote.

RI House passes gun limits: Ban on large-capacity magazines, minimum age 21 to purchase

More: Senate panel cancels abortion-rights vote, sends bill to another committee

Senate leadership then availed themselves of a different approach allowed by the Senate rules: letting the House-approved version of the bills bypass the committee entirely and go directly to the full Senate for "immediate consideration," with consent of two-thirds of the Senate.

More: Pro-gun groups rally at RI State House against proposed law changes

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: RI gun control: Senate committee vote on high-capacity magazine ban