PROVIDENCE — Governor Daniel J. McKee, Attorney General Peter F. Neronha, and Rhode Island’s other statewide office-holders stepped to the podium Tuesday, providing a high-profile push early in the legislative session for a ban on “assault-style” weapons such as AR-15s.
But the gathering of the state’s top leaders did not include House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, and neither legislative leader mentioned the gun legislation in talking to the Globe about their priorities for 2023.
So it remains to be seen if the General Assembly will ban “assault-style” weapons one year after it passed three gun bills — limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds, prohibiting the open carry of long guns in public, and raising the age from 18 to 21 to buy long guns and ammunition.
McKee, a Democrat who won a four-year term in November, stood in the State Room of the State House, saying it’s time to make Rhode Island the 10th state to enact a ban on certain semi-automatic shotguns and rifles referred to as “assault-style” weapons.
“I am ready to sign this bill into law the moment that it hits my desk, and it’s time,” he said, noting that he called for passing such a ban in his State of the State address. “We have seen too many communities shattered by devastating acts of violence because someone was in possession of a weapon that simply should not be on the streets.”
Tuesday marked the 31st day of 2023, McKee noted. “And in those 31 short days, there has already been more than 50 mass shootings in the United States,” he said, mentioning the mass shootings at a ballroom dance studio in Monterey Park, Calif., and at two farms in Half Moon Bay, Calif.
Neronha, the Democratic attorney general who won another term in November, said the proposed legislation comes down to two things: “eliminating risk and political will.”
Rhode Island has helped to eliminate risks by passing gun legislation in past years, he said, citing a law against bringing guns onto school property and a ban on “ghost guns” that can be made with a 3D printer and have no serial numbers.
“All of that has been to eliminate risk, to make Rhode Island safer,” Neronha said. “And as the attorney general, I can point to specific instances where those changes in the law have made Rhode Islanders safer, and this bill will do exactly the same thing.”
He said there is no question that “assault-style” weapons, as defined in the legislation, pose a threat to Rhode Islanders.
Neronha said the general office holders, all Democrats, and General Assembly members have demonstrated the political will to keep campaign promises and to support gun legislation.
“If you need a referendum from Rhode Islanders as to where they stand, just look at those election results,” he said. “Look at the platforms of the people who ran against the people standing here today, and then you will know what Rhode Islanders think. They believe in this legislation. They know it will make them safer, and they know it will make their families safer. So the time is now. This is the year. Let’s get it done.”
Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos, Secretary of State Gregg M. Amore, and General Treasurer James A. Diossa, also spoke in support of the legislation, which will be introduced by Representative Jason Knight, a Barrington Democrat, and Senator Joshua Miller, a Cranston Democrat.
Miller said he has been a senator for 16 years and involved with “assault-style” weapons legislation for a decade. At first, only a half-dozen senators would sign on as cosponsors for such a bill, but now a majority of the 38-member Senate is backing the bill, and all the statewide office holders are promoting it in the State Room in January, he said.
“We have come a long way,” Miller said.
But do the top House and Senate leaders support the legislation?
Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat who has had a “D” rating from the National Rifle Association, is “keeping an open mind,” House spokesman Larry Berman said. “The bill hasn’t been introduced, and then public hearings will be held.”
Ruggerio, who has had an “A” rating from the NRA, issued a statement, saying, “Like all legislation that comes before the Senate, this proposal will receive an extensive review through the committee process.”
When the gun bills passed last year, Ruggerio told the Globe he owns firearms and is “a Second Amendment person.” But following the mass shootings Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, he said, “We have to do something about what’s happening out there. Every day, it gets worse.”
Tuesday’s news conference comes one day before US Representative David N. Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, plans to again introduce federal legislation for a ban on assault-style weapons. That federal legislation passed the House in the last Congress by a bipartisan vote of 217-213, but it did not pass the Senate.
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.