House Bill H-5573 is a direct assault on Rhode Island’s law-abiding firearm owners and sportsman. This piece of legislation, submitted by first-year House Representative Linda Finn – who represents Middletown and Portsmouth, along with some other not-so-surprising co-sponsors such as Reps. Ajello, Cimini and Blazejewski – all self-proclaimed “progressives” from Providence, represents the largest attempt to infringe on our constitutional rights in years.
The bill seeks to change a good deal of RI firearm law, with the most egregious being the complete elimination of the 1959 law 11-47-41 which prohibits registration of firearms, and/or firearm owners. This bill, if passed, would require every single firearm owned by law-abiding Rhode Islanders to be subjected to a $100 “registration fee”, require the name, address, fingerprint and signature to be filed with their local law enforcement agency. Anyone who fails to register a firearm is subject to a $3,000 fine and/or 3 years in jail – per offense.
Another aspect of this legislation is to require that every long-gun sold in RI must leave the gun shop with a “safety device designed to prevent the unintended discharge or discharge by unauthorized users”. If we read this one more time we notice that this is perhaps the most foolish part of the proposed legislation – a “safety device designed to prevent the unintended discharge” – those of us who aren’t completely in the dark, already call this a “safety” – and firearms already have these “safety devices”. Then there’s the “safety device designed to prevent… discharge by unauthorized users”. Once again, this already exists – it’s called “responsible firearm ownership and handling”. If the legislators proposing this bill are seeking some sort of device that will be able to discern the difference between a person who is “authorized” and one who is “unauthorized”, then we might need to step into uncharted territory here and create some amazing technology.
Page 4 of this legislation contains a provision that shall require police departments to keep and maintain files of all paperwork that is sent to the police in the normal purchase process of a firearm. Not only is this contrary to our state’s long standing laws, but it is a practice that is an invasion of privacy, and could be abused by rogue elements within police departments. I want to make it very clear that the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials are some of the most professional individuals with the highest of moral and ethical standards, but one does not need to look too far back into our nation’s history – for example, last week in L.A. County California, where a police officer was exacting revenge on certain individuals and murdering them in order to realize that unfortunately, as human-beings, police do suffer the same fallibilities as every other human. There was a nation-wide man hunt for this “cop gone bad”, and while it is not an everyday occurrence, the possibility is still there. If we delve a bit deeper into RI police history, we know that Foster RI had a police officer “go off the deep end” and exact revenge by murdering several teenage victims in town. The information found in these documents might allow these individuals to go a lot further with their plans if their mental state drove them to.
A more realistic aspect of the “record keeping” requirement is that nothing would prevent police department from adding firearm ownership information into routine daily business, such as traffic stops and investigations. It is not very far from the realm of possibility that during a traffic stop an officer receives information that the driver is a “firearm owner.” That immediately turns a situation that is already tense for the police officer, into one that is now of a much more heightened sensitivity – and it wouldn’t take much in the heat of the moment for a driver who is struggling to pull his large black wallet out from between his seats to be perceived as a man “reaching for a black gun” and could potentially cause a irreversible tragedy if the police officer truly believes he’s in danger.
A scenario that isn’t much different would be an investigation into a neighborhood complaint that results on an officer executing a “door knock” on a home that has just been reported to him as being owned by a firearm owner by the dispatcher. Again, on hyper-sensitive alert, the officer might be able to easily see through the front window as he stands on the porch and notice that the person he wants to speak with is “pulling out a large black object from between the cushions in his couch, and aiming it.” After a potentially devastating mistake, the police might learn that the person was simply getting his TV remote control to turn the TV down before answering the door.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of this is the complete disregard for the poor. I offer the example of an elderly man who owns a shotgun that he bought as a young man 50 years ago, and now lives in the “bad side of town”. This man would have to pay for the right to keep his own property, and if he is on a fixed income and barely surviving the economy already – as so many Americans and Rhode Islanders are, he may not be able to pay the $100 and will therefore have to forfeit his right to protect himself. Are we still living in the America that our Constitution established?
The negative implications of such an ill-conceived piece of legislation are endless. But think of this for a moment – this bill would make firearm ownership illegal if you don’t pay a fee and provide law enforcement with your name, address, fingerprint and signature. I challenge anyone to provide an example of another basic right that is guaranteed protection by the Bill of Rights being subject to a fee, and invasion of privacy.
Do you need to pay $100 to exercise your right to free speech? What about the right to exercise the religion of your choice? Or perhaps you’d need to pay $100 to invoke 5th Amendment protection in court. Maybe we should charge folks $100 to be free from unreasonable search and seizure? Better yet, let’s charge people for the right to a trial by jury (7th Amendment). I don’t think I need to elaborate on this point any further, it is clear that no such examples exist, and it is for a very good reason.
The Bill of Rights is a mechanism that our Founding Fathers, in their ageless wisdom, enacted to guarantee personal freedoms and protect the natural rights of citizens to liberty and property.
It’s clear that in addition to the constitutional shortcomings and violations of this absolutely horrific proposal, that the state of Rhode Island could never in her wildest dreams afford to support such a system that would require a tremendous amount of money, man-power and other resources to not only implement, but to maintain. We cannot even process unemployment claims fast enough because we don’t have the money to pay more staff – and we want to add this burden to the police while at the same time we wrinkle up the constitution and throw it in the garbage?
Representative Finn and her anti-constitutional cohorts perhaps misunderstood the oath they swore just 56 days ago; or worse yet they may not care that they are violating it. The voters of District 72 need to send Rep. Finn a message, and the other Reps need their respective districts to remind them that while they don’t take their oath of office seriously, the voters do.
“I, Linda Finn, Edith Ajello, Maria Cimini, Christopher Blazejewski, do solemnly swear that I will be true and faithful to this state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations; that I will support the Constitution of United States, and Constitution and the laws of this state, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge the duties of my office, to the best of my abilities, according the law; so help me God.”
What part of “I solemnly swear… so help me God” don’t they understand?
RI State Representative Michael Chippendale
Senior Deputy Minority Leader
District 40 – Coventry (Greene), Foster and Glocester