Rhode Island lawmakers to vote on disarming domestic abusers

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A yearslong debate in Rhode Island over disarming domestic abusers could reach a resolution this week as state lawmakers decide whether to take guns away from people on restraining orders.

If the proposal becomes law, anyone on a domestic protective order issued by a court after July 1 would have to surrender guns and wouldn’t be able to get them back while the order is in effect.

“This will give people who are being abused the confidence to know that when they go through our system for protection, they will get that protection,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Teresa Tanzi, a South Kingstown Democrat. “Their families will be safer as a result.”

The legislation would also impose a six-year gun ban for anyone convicted of a violent crime and such misdemeanors as simple assault, cyberstalking and disorderly conduct when it involves force or threatened use of a weapon.

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HOUSE VOTE

The state House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the legislation Monday. The Senate hasn’t yet scheduled a vote, but with lawmakers preparing to adjourn their annual session by the end of the week, pressure is building. Domestic violence prevention advocates believe they have enough votes for the bill’s passage through both chambers of the Democratic-controlled legislature, but gun rights groups have been lobbying to halt it. Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has expressed support for the measure.

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RESTRAINING ORDER

The most significant provision of the bill for proponents and critics is the automatic confiscation of guns from someone who has been ordered by a judge to stay away from a family member who fears their abuse.

“They’re taking away a judge’s discretion,” said bill opponent Frank Saccoccio, president of the Rhode Island Second Amendment Coalition. “Until it’s proven, it’s still an allegation.”

Judges have discretion to restrict gun ownership when they issue protective orders, but advocates for domestic violence victims say they too often don’t include gun restrictions in the orders. The proposed gun-surrender mandate doesn’t apply to short-term restraining orders, but rather to final orders that happen after a court hearing during which both sides can present their case.

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NO MORE THIRD PARTY

Gun rights groups have also objected to provisions that take away the opportunity for gun owners to hand over their firearms to a neutral third party.

“It could have been their best friend,” Tanzi said. “That did not offer adequate protection for victims. You could be at your best friend’s house and convince that person you’re just going to the range.”

The legislation calls for surrendering guns to local or state police or a licensed gun dealer. Whoever stores it will be required to use “due care.”

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POLICE OFFICER EXCEPTION

Sworn peace officers and active military members who are on domestic restraining orders could still use a gun on duty, but it “must be stored at the place of employment” and only carried on the job. They would still have to surrender any other guns they own.

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MASS SHOOTINGS

Rhode Island gun-control advocates have said the measure aims to help not just individual families but a wider circle of people who could be harmed by a domestic abuser.

“It’s no coincidence that people who have perpetrated many of these mass killings have had a history of domestic abuse,” Tanzi said Monday, noting this month’s shooting of a Republican congressman and four others by a man who had past run-ins with police in Illinois, including a charge of misdemeanor battery for storming into a neighbor’s house.

“I can’t help but think when the shots were fired and we started to learn about the history of the individual who perpetrated the crime, it was one of those moments where your heart stops, and you realize the impact that this bill can have,” Tanzi said.

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