A national push to get guns out of the hands of people with a history of domestic abuse is finding some traction in the Rhode Island General Assembly, while some gun control advocates want tougher restrictions.
A compromise bill is moving forward in the state Senate that would order anyone convicted of a felony domestic violence offense to surrender firearms and file proof of surrender in court.
Gun safety advocates consider the legislation by Sen. Cynthia Coyne, a Barrington Democrat and former state trooper, to be a minor administrative fix since it's already illegal for convicted domestic violence felons to have a gun.
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Tougher proposals met opposition from gun rights advocates, but some are still in play as the legislative session heads into its final weeks.
Democratic Rep. Teresa Tanzi has sponsored a bill that would expand the number of people required to surrender guns. The South Kingstown Democrat said most of the people affected by Coyne's bill are headed to prison because they've been convicted of the most serious violent crimes. Tanzi said she's more worried about those with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions.
Federal law has long prohibited felons and others convicted of domestic violence misdemeanor crimes or subject to protective orders from buying or owning guns. But it doesn't establish procedures for those abusers to surrender those guns. It also has a narrow definition of domestic relationships.
"We're allowing people to leave the court angry, get their guns and go wreak havoc. And that's not acceptable," Tanzi said.
The Rhode Island Second Amendment Coalition has criticized Tanzi's bill as "relying on the overly broad and flawed definitions of domestic violence as a front for full-blown gun confiscation."
Everytown for Gun Safety, a national gun safety group, is supporting Tanzi's bill. It sent a letter to lawmakers recently detailing Rhode Island cases where it said courts didn't order abusers to turn in their guns even when federal law banned them from possessing a gun.
The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence is supporting a similar bill by Rep. Gregg Amore, an East Providence Democrat. Tanzi said she and Amore are working together.
Democrats control both chambers of the General Assembly, but Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello is a gun rights supporter who regularly points out that Rhode Island's gun rules are already among the strictest in the country.
"We all know it's a tough sell in the House," said Rachel Orsinger, who directs policy and advocacy for the Rhode Island Coalition.
Tanzi said she's talked with Mattiello several times about her legislation and he's kept an open mind and "shown interest" in passing something to protect domestic violence victims. A spokesman for Mattiello said only that the gun bills are still under review.