McKee signs 3 gun-control bills into law, including high-capacity magazine ban

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PROVIDENCE — Gov. Dan McKee signed three gun-control bills – including one that will prohibit the possession of gun magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition – into law on Tuesday afternoon in a room packed with local and national advocates.

"Enjoy the moment," McKee, a Democrat, told the cheering advocates packed into the State Room.

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The new law limiting magazine size gives current owners of high-capacity magazines six months to modify them, surrender them to police or transfer them to people in states where they are legal. After that, anyone still in possession of an outlawed magazine could face up to five years in prison or a fine of up to $5,000.

The other measures raise the age to buy a firearm or ammunition from 18 to 21, and prohibit people from openly carrying loaded rifles and shotguns in public.

Among those who attended the State House signing ceremony was Shannon Watts, founder of the gun-control advocacy group Moms Demand Action.

She lauded the efforts of the Rhode Island lawmakers who sheperded the bills to this point, and "on top of it all ... went toe to toe with gun extremists."

"As I always say, 'Don't mess with a mom'," she said to cheers from the standing-room-only crowd in the State Room.

Gov. Dan McKee signs a trio of gun-control bills into law on Tuesday.
Gov. Dan McKee signs a trio of gun-control bills into law on Tuesday.

""Elected officials are finally realizing it is more a political liability to oppose gun-safety legislation than to support it, and that's because gun safety isn't just good policy, it is good politics," she said.

"What you have done in Rhode Island will save so many lives."

As she, McKee – whom she dubbed "a true gun-sense champion" – and the sponsors of the three bills spoke, fewer than a dozen protesters shouted their disapproval up from the rotunda, with one carrying a sign that said: "We will not comply."

"It has taken ten years of hard work," said one of the last speakers, Sydney Montstream-Quas, the board chair of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence.

"June 23 marks the anniversary of my Cousin Johnny's murder. in 1998. One gun. One bullet took one beautiful life and a loving father. And that shattered my family."

"We know the data. But how do we measure the heartbreak?" she asked rhetorically. "In the last six weeks, [multiple] mass shootings have broken all of our hearts."

In his turn, the NRA "A" rated Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey hailed colleagues who "had the courage last week to take the right vote at the right time."

He said the bill he sponsored to prohibit the open-carry of loaded rifles "takes away no one's right to own a firearm or defend themselves. We all deserve to feel safe in a place like grocery stores, schools, churches."

Related: Everything you need to know about RI's ban on high-capacity magazines

The passage by House and Senate majorities last week followed a number of recent instances of gun violence across the country, including mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, as well as frequent reports of gun violence in Rhode Island.

Moms Demand Action is part of Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization that says it has "over eight million supporters ... more than 375,000 donors ... [and a] chapter in every state."

Jennifer Boylan, the leader of the local Moms Demand Action chapter, suggested this "headline" as McKee – wearing the familiar red "Moms Demand Action T-shirt – signed the last of the three guns bills on Tuesday: "Man enough to be a 'Mom."

Pro-gun advocates have vowed to file a legal challenge soon after the new laws were signed.

Lawyers at a local firm laid out the potential grounds for the legal challenge in a letter to lawmakers that described the newly approved ban on high-capacity magazines, without compensation, as an illegal "taking" under the U.S. Constitution.

The warning letter from Providence-based Kelly, Souza, & Parmenter P.C. did not, however, deter majorities in the House and Senate from approving the legislation that would make Rhode Island the 11th state plus the District of Columbia to place a size limit on firearm magazines.

And when asked about the likelihood of a legal challenge, a spokesman for Attorney General Peter Neronha told The Journal: "Should the state be sued here, we are confident we will be able to defend this law."

On Tuesday, R.I. Rifle and Revolver Association lobbyist Brenda Jacob reiterated her group's objections to the legislation that will "make law-abiding citizens felons within the next 180 days.

"The political maneuvering that occurred to get these bills passed and the unprecedented shift away from the committee process should raise alarm bells for all Rhode Islanders."

"We will remember in November," she wrote in an email. "The voice of the people will not continue to be ignored.

Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts, right, attends a State House news conference in 2019. At left is Erica Keuter, a Rhode Islander who survived the mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017.
Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts, right, attends a State House news conference in 2019. At left is Erica Keuter, a Rhode Islander who survived the mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017.

Watts was here in 2019. She joined then-Gov. Gina Raimondo, Neronha and then-Central Falls Mayor James Diossa at a news conference to urge passage of a packet of “common-sense gun bills." Among them: an assault weapons ban, which has still not passed, and the 10-round limit on high-capacity magazines that did not pass until last week.

The hours-long House Judiciary hearing on gun legislation that year included a plea from Erica Keuter of East Greenwich, who survived the massacre by a lone gunman that left 58 concert-goers dead and hundreds more injured in Las Vegas in October 2017.

“I heard screaming and crying, smelled gunpowder and saw the carnage that one person can do with these firearms, all of which were legally owned,’’ she told the lawmakers. “If you take one thing away from my experience, it’s that gun violence can happen anywhere, anytime, to anyone.”

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: RI high capacity magazine ban, gun control bills signed into law