On Monday October 30th at 1:45PM the Governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, signed the Protect Rhode Island Families Act into Law. The act itself aims to prevent domestic abusers from obtaining guns.
This victory was the product of several years of lobbying efforts and legislative work by allies in the state house and senate. Groups such as Everytown for Gun Safety, the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, and, most notably, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America all provided support in ensuring that this “common sense” legislation was passed. It has been noted by many that a strong civil society leads to a successful liberal democracy. This case, and the actions of Moms Demand Action for Gun sense in America, exemplifies how important an active citizenry is to the success of democratic institutions.
A sea of red t-shirts filled the State Room of the Rhode Island State House, a room adjacent to the Governor’s Office. On their backs’ read “Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.” Many notable Rhode Islanders – such as a member of the Brown affiliated Magaziner family and politicians like Mayor Jorge Elorza – were present. This made the room feel more akin to a campaign meet-and-greet than a hard-fought legislative victory. Once Governor Raimondo entered the State Room, she was met with overwhelming applause. The following series of speakers ranged from personal testimony and gratitude from survivors to declarations of success and relief from noteworthy legislators.
The Protect Rhode Island Families Act, a bill sponsored by Representative Teresa Tanzi in the House (Along with Representatives Amore, Fogarty, Ruggiero, and Maldonado) and Senator Harold M. Metts in the Senate, requires those “convicted of a crime of domestic violence and anyone subject to a domestic abuse protective order to surrender any firearms they have, and would prohibit them from acquiring more.” Additionally, it requires all those subject to the order to turn in their firearms within 24 hours of their being given notice. This law brings Rhode Island closer to standards set by the Federal Government. For many years it has been illegal for domestic abusers to have possession of firearms. However, Rhode Island law has not forced them to turn weapons in. In fact, only five percent of final protective orders have resulted in ordered gun returns.
While this new action has been lauded as a major victory for gun safety, for many it is not nearly enough. Campaigns for gun control have been met with heavy resistance nationally. In fact, between January of 2011 and June of 2016, over 100 gun laws were proposed to federal congress. However, hardly any made it onto the senate or house floor, and not one of them was signed into law. Governor Raimondo herself said that while she was excited to sign this bill, “there’s more to do. Let’s take this and keep going,” She said. “Let’s take this and have national common sense gun reform. Let’s take this and ban military style weapons, like many of our neighbors have done.”
This statement was received with immediate applause. Notably, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello remained still and silent. When he spoke he asserted, “I don’t view this as a gun bill, I view this as a domestic violence bill.”
The event ultimately symbolized a success for Rhode Island democracy. This bill took three years to pass through the Rhode Island congress. It was not unanimously endorsed but it did ultimately garner bipartisan support. The final bill ultimately passed through the senate on June 30th, 2017, with 30 Democratic and 3 Republican Yea votes, 2 Republican Nay votes, and 2 Democratic “other” votes. It passed through the House on September 19th and was signed by the Governor on October 30th.
Gun Control has been, and will continue to be, a subject of soreness for the American people. For many, the right to possess a gun is a constitutional certainty; for others it’s an outdated law based on previous circumstance and poorer historical weapons engineering. This issue has led to some of the most heated debates and some of the widest ideological polarization in this country.
Many see this polarization as a sign of the erosion of democracy. To others the drawl of policy change, on account of disagreement, is a symbol of democracy at work. Ultimately, plurality of opinion is necessary to the function of American liberal democracy, as it has been established. I see the passing of this bill as an encouraging example of the potential for success of peaceful and consistent resistance. Most policy debate in the US is long and arduous. This was no exception. However, after years of action by key members of the house and senate of Rhode Island, by RI’s Moms Demand Action, and by other lobbying contingencies, this bill was signed into law and finally can help protect some of the most vulnerable members of our community.