PROVIDENCE — With bills streaming in to plug loopholes in Rhode Island law that allowed a man with a history of making homicidal and suicidal threats to buy the gun used in a fatal shooting in Westerly, a handful of gun-rights protesters tried to drown out religious leaders — and a choir — at a State House rally on Wednesday.
"We know that a high-capacity magazine ban will not solve the issue of violence in our nation, but as our rabbis have taught us, just because we cannot solve a problem does not mean that we are free to ignore it,'' said one of the speakers, Rabbi Howard Voss-Altman of Temple Beth-El.
"I want to know: how long does it take to reload a weapon? A few seconds?'' echoed the Rev. Jamie Washam of the First Baptist Church, suggesting that a seconds-long pause could make a life-or-death difference, over shouts of "What about the Constitution'' and "Bloomberg money'' from a small group of protesters that included two men in yellow "don't tread on me" T-shirts and Anne Armstrong, the 2018 "Compassion Party" candidate for governor.
The event marked the first of many anticipated rallies for and against the tightening of state gun laws, in the wake of recent shootings in Pawtucket and Westerly that drew attention to potential gaps in state law.
On Tuesday, amid the hoopla surrounding Gov. Gina Raimondo's State of the State address, lawmakers introduced the three bills that merited mention by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello in his opening-day remarks. They went online Wednesday.
Two of the bills were sparked by the December shooting in Westerly in which Joseph Giachello killed one person at his housing complex and injured two others before turning the gun on himself. As the story unfolded, it became evident the police chief in Westerly was unaware that a man with Giachello's history had acquired a gun from a dealer in Richmond only days earlier, and the Richmond police were unaware that Westerly police had nine calls about Giachello from 2002 to January 2018.
Mattiello, a gun-rights advocate with an "A" rating in the past from the NRA, was lead sponsor of a bill to create a "statewide records management system" that would enable police in any one community to check out incident reports, arrests and warrants in any other city or town.
More specifically, the bill [H7101] would authorize the state police to oversee the "installation, operation, and maintenance of a statewide records management system ... [for the] viewing of information, records, documents, or files pertaining to law enforcement operations. Such records may include, but not be limited to, incident and accident reports, arrests, citations, warrants, case management, field contacts, and other operations-oriented records."
Access would be limited to sworn members of state and local law enforcement agencies; the agencies would be charged a fee, yet to be determined, to "interface'' with the system, which "shall not retain personal information for a period longer then is reasonably required."
It remains unclear how the gun-rights community — which has former House Speaker William Murphy among its State House lobbyists and has already raised concerns that a gun registry could result if police departments are able to communicate more easily — will react to the wording of the newly filed bill.
A second bill [H7103] seeks to remove any debate about the necessity of gun dealers notifying the hometown police chiefs of anyone seeking to buy a gun.
When first filed, the bill, sponsored by Rep. Daniel McKiernan, D-Providence, said: "The person selling the pistol or revolver shall on the date of application sign and forward by registered mail, or by delivery in person, or by electronic mail ... the original and duplicate copies of the application to the superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police or the chief of police in the city or town in which the [purchaser] has his or her residence."
In response to Journal inquiries about the word "or," House spokesman Larry Berman said the bill was being amended to make clear that applications need to go to the hometown chiefs in every community except Exeter, which does not have its own police department and relies on the state police.
The third bill , introduced by Rep. Patricia Serpa, D-West Warwick, echoes a renewed effort by Sen. Cynthia Coyne to ban so-called ghost guns and 3D-printed guns, in the wake of a recent shooting in Pawtucket by a shooter using what local police initially suspected was a 3D gun.
On Wednesday, the director of the state's crime lab said it was unlikely the gun had been made with a 3D printer.