2018-03-01 / Front Page

Assault Weapons Bill Proposed

Governor Signs Executive Order, Gun Shops Weigh In
By Jocelyn O'Neil

The school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14 has prompted Rhode Island lawmakers and local leaders to propose sweeping gun laws that would ban military assault weapons for private citizens.

Local democratic committee leaders held a meeting on Monday night, Feb. 26 at the Middletown Public Library to discuss a proposed bill, the "Rhode Island Assault Weapons Ban Act of 2018," which would ban the manufacture, sale, purchase and possession of 99 different assault weapons in Rhode Island.

On the same day, Governor Gina Raimondo signed an executive order that establishes a statewide "red flag" policy to help keep guns away from people "who pose a danger to themselves and others," according to RI.gov.

Rhode Island currently allows authorities to take away people’s guns in cases of domestic violence. Raimondo’s red flag policy goes further, ordering police to “take all available legal steps” to remove guns from dangerous individuals.

Firearms already owned by individuals who have not been deemed a danger to themselves or others would be "grandfathered," meaning they would be exempt from the proposed ban.

Dominic Calarco, owner of Island Gun Shop, located at 1678 East Main Road in Portsmouth, doesn't think banning assault rifles will solve the problem of school shootings and guns in the hands of kids.

"I don't believe the assault rifle is the problem," he said. "There have been millions sold in the last five years; what about those? They are already out there.

"I think a lot of this is for political grandstanding," Calarco said about the proposed ban.

What constitutes an “assault weapon” is a question whose answer is the subject of intense debate by those on both sides of the issue.

Gun control advocates see the manufacture and sale of the AR-15 to private citizens as problematic. It has been used in a number of school shootings, including at Sandy Hook Elementary (Newtown, Connecticut) in 2012, which killed 20 children between 6 and 7 years old, as well as six adults. But it does not meet the federal requirements to be considered an assault weapon.

The sale of an “automatic” weapon, typically called a “machine gun,” is already illegal in Rhode Island. An automatic weapon is one that fires continuously with one trigger squeeze, whereas with a semi-automatic gun, the user needs to pull the trigger each time to discharge a bullet.

Calarco believes that the measures being taken don’t answer the question of who is responsible for keeping guns out of the hands of kids.

"As far as what happened in Florida... everyone dropped the ball and these were highly specialized people in their field and they failed," he said, referring to the mental health professionals involved with the shooter.

"We are raising kids with an entitled attitude," he said. "Parents feel like they can't say 'no' to them. That kid in Florida [shooter Nikolas Cruz] obviously should have never had a weapon. So, my question is, 'who's to determine who's dangerous and can’t have guns?’ Let's say someone goes to a psychiatrist after a divorce, should that mean that this person can't own a firearm?"

Matthew Carvalho, owner of A&M Tactical on 10 Coddington Hwy. in Middletown, and his employees, are trained to look for "red flags" before selling a weapon.

"As a business owner, I have the right to refuse service to anyone," Carvalho said. "I look at body language, if they say anything 'off,' or if they are asking about rushing the waiting period."

Federal and state paperwork, including a background check, must be filled out and there is a mandatory seven-day waiting period before any person over the age of 18 in Rhode Island can purchase a firearm.

The paperwork contains several questions that can help determine if guns should not be sold to certain individuals, such as those who have been arrested and convicted of violent crimes, or misdemeanors or non-violent felonies, as well as those who have been treated for psychiatric conditions or substance abuse issues.

Carvalho believes there are misconceptions about assault weapons and what they actually are. "The ‘AR’ in AR-15 for example, does not stand for 'assault rifle or automatic rifle,’" he said. "It stands for ‘ArmaLite Rifle,’ which was the name of the original manufacturer from the 1950s.

“School shootings are a problem in this country. I, of course, agree with that,” he said. “But do I think as a human being, not as a gun shop owner, but as a human being, that banning these assault rifles will alleviate the issue? No.

"If I truly believed that… I would not sell them… it will not do a thing to relieve what is going on in this country."

Carvalho said that access to “misinformation,” whether through social media or other avenues, is perpetuating the problem. "My goal is to educate people," he said. "I encourage people to come in and ask questions."

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