RI House OKs bill to disarm domestic abusers

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A bill aimed at protecting the victims of domestic abuse is now heading to the Rhode Island Senate.

After a lengthy debate Monday night, House lawmakers voted 55-12 to pass legislation that would take guns away from domestic abusers.

If the bill is signed into law, anyone under a domestic restraining order would have to turn in their weapons after July 1 and wouldn’t be allowed to possess them while the order is in effect.

The bill also includes a six-year firearms ban for anyone convicted of a violent crime, including misdemeanors, simple assault and even cyberstalking.

The contentious bill has been years in the making and has undergone a series of amendments to address concerns.

“It’s been a long three, four years, but we’re turning a corner and I think we’re in the homestretch now,” said Nan Heroux, of Middletown.

Sponsored by Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-Narragansett, the bill is meant to protect families from domestic abusers with guns.

“From 1980 to 2016, 48 percent of all domestic violence homicides were committed with a gun,” Tanzi said Monday night.

Opponents argue that the bill is misleading and doesn’t actually protect domestic violence victims.

“The gun doesn’t do the domestic violence,” said Rep. Patricia Morgan. “It’s the person that shoots, or uses a knife, or uses his or her hands, or bludgeons.”

Morgan also said the act infringes on a basic right laid out in the U.S. Constitution.

“This goes to the heart of what we in America value, which is our constitutional rights,” she added.

But former victims say it concerns the right to safety.

“The first time we were threatened with a gun was when I was only 3 years old,” Rachel Jarosz recalled. “It’s actually my first memory in my life.”

“This is a really important issue for family safety and I’m really elated today” she said.

Eyewitness News reached out to several members of the Rhode Island Second Amendment Coalition but they declined to comment.

Supporters will be back at the State House on Tuesday to lobby senators to back the bill. If it’s passed, Rhode Island would join 27 other states, and Washington D.C., with similar legislation.

That bill was just one of nearly three dozen set to be taken up by state lawmakers Monday night.

The House also approved a proposed highway surveillance system that would scan license plates to search for and fine anyone on the road without insurance.

The bill makes it clear that such a system, which would be run by a private company, cannot be used for tolls. Opponents say it raises questions about privacy and government intrusion.

Other bills to be taken up by lawmakers aim to strengthen Rhode Island’s human trafficking laws and give military veterans preference when awarding state contracts.