House approves Tanzi bill to raise age for gun, ammunition sales to 21


STATE HOUSE – Three weeks after the horrific mass murder of 19 schoolchildren and two teachers at a Texas elementary school by an 18-year-old gunman, the House of Representatives today voted 52-16 in favor legislation sponsored by Rep. Teresa Tanzi to raise the legal age to purchase firearms or ammunition in Rhode Island from 18 to 21. The bill now goes to the Senate.

“We already prohibit people younger than 21 from buying handguns. But an 18-year-old — a person who might even still be a high school student — can buy the kind of semi-automatic rifle that is the weapon of choice for mass shooters. It doesn’t make any sense,” said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett). “Guns — all guns — are deadly weapons. It’s reasonable that someone who is not old enough to buy alcohol or tobacco should also be considered not old enough to buy a gun.”

Current state law bans the sale or possession of handguns to people under 21, but allows them to buy and possess rifles and shotguns. Representative Tanzi’s bill (2022-H 7457aa) will make it illegal to sell any firearm, or ammunition, to anyone under 21, with violations punishable by up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines. The bill contains exceptions for police, state marshals or correctional officers and active duty military or National Guard members.

“When our existing law prohibiting people under 21 from buying handguns was enacted in 1959, AR-15s were weapons that even the military didn’t have. No one envisioned that 63 years later, there would be millions of these high-velocity, extraordinarily lethal weapons in the hands of civilians. Certainly no one ever imagined that a teenager would go out and legally buy two of them on his 18th birthday along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, then use them to massacre 19 innocent children and two teachers at school,” said Representative Tanzi. “It’s not 1959. In 2022, we need laws that recognize the incredible killing capacity of modern weapons, and the serious gun violence epidemic we have in this nation. We need to put an end to the years of political inaction that is enabling mass shootings. I’m proud that today in Rhode Island, we are moving in the right direction.”

“I don’t believe for one second that changing this law is going to stop mass shootings. It’s going to take a lot more, but we have to start with reducing easy access to powerful weapons by teenagers and very young people,” she continued. “We have to move the needle toward gun safety reform, which is supported by the vast majority of Americans. We are so heartbroken, so sick and so tired of the relentless slaughter of innocent people in this country, every single day. It is up to those of us whose job it is to make laws to find the courage to stand up and do everything we can to put a stop to it.”

The legislation has 21 cosponsors, including Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (D-Dist. 5, Providence), Rep. Liana Cassar (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence), Rep. Leonela Felix (D-Dist. 61, Pawtucket), Rep. Michelle E. McGaw (D-Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton), Rep. Susan R. Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth), Rep. Karen Alzate (D-Dist. 60, Pawtucket), Rep. Joshua J. Giraldo (D-Dist. 56, Central Falls), House Majority Whip Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence) and Rep. Rebecca Kislak (D-Dist. 4, Providence).

The bill now goes to the Senate, where Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence) is sponsoring companion legislation (2022-S 2637). That bill is scheduled for consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, along with the companion bills for two other measures scheduled for votes in the House today, one to ban high-capacity magazines and another to prohibit the open carrying of loaded rifles or shotguns in public.