Rhode Island Senate panel mulls gun-related bills

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A Rhode Island Senate committee took up gun legislation Tuesday, including a bill aimed at preventing people with severe mental illness from buying weapons and a proposal to ban the sale and possession of semi-automatic weapons.

Sen. Catherine Cool Rumsey's bill would require courts to submit information on a mentally ill person involuntarily committed but deemed dangerous to others. The Exeter Democrat's proposal would require the information be provided to the national database used for background checks on prospective gun buyers.

The legislation would also create a five-person board to hear appeals from anyone prohibited from having a gun because of mental illness.

The bill stems from the work of a special task force created after the Connecticut school shootings in 2012, when 20 children and six educators were killed. Cool Rumsey said her bill seeks to balance public safety with gun rights and patient privacy.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also heard testimony on a bill to ban the sale of semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity magazines.

Many who attended the hearing wore yellow buttons that read: "Gun Control Does Not Work." Philip Overton, an accountant from Westerly, testified that he uses an A-15 recreationally. He said it's the most popular weapon at his shooting club because "they're just really nice rifles."

"Banning this firearm will solve nothing, as this firearm and the law-abiding citizens who own them are not the problem .... banning our firearms will not affect these criminals a single iota," he told the committee.

Similar legislation failed to get a vote last session after gun rights supporters rallied against it.

Opponents of the current bill also rallied at the Statehouse against the measure earlier this year.

Other bills under consideration would bar individuals convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense from owning a firearm and either expand or establish mandatory sentences for certain weapons violations.

Steven Brown of the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union testified against mandatory minimum sentences, saying they would disproportionately affect those who refuse to enter a plea bargain and elect to go to trial, rather than "the worst of the worst" criminals.

But Sen. Dawson Hodgson, a North Kingstown Republican who is running for state attorney general, said the legislation is needed to ensure severe punishment for those convicted of having an illegal gun.

"We need to send a message in Rhode Island that it is absolutely not tolerated in our state to have an illegal weapon," he said. "It's illegal weapons that we should be concentrating on in terms of enforcement."

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