- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 11, 2017

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A debate over whether domestic abusers can have guns is returning to the General Assembly this year after legislation was defeated during the final hours of last year’s session.

At least two bills aimed at keeping guns away from people who have committed misdemeanor domestic violence crimes are being introduced in the state House of Representatives.

The leader of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence said she is optimistic the legislation will be successful this year after efforts stalled last year.

“There seems to be a stronger appetite to get something done,” said Deborah DeBare, the group’s executive director. “There’s already a federal law that addresses this, but what we need is a state law that clarifies exactly what state crimes are included.”

Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who often describes himself as a gun rights supporter, told Rhode Island Public Radio last month he plans “to get a little more personally involved and see if I can nudge both sides toward consensus.”

East Providence Democratic Rep. Gregg Amore on Wednesday introduced a bill that would block people with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from owning guns. Four other Democrats are co-sponsors.

South Kingstown Democratic Rep. Teresa Tanzi said she also was working with DeBare’s group to introduce a bill that would go one step further, prohibiting gun ownership for people who have active domestic restraining orders.

Amore’s bill would exclude restraining orders and offenses punishable as petty misdemeanors. It would restore the ability to buy a gun after 10 years or if a conviction is expunged.

DeBare said she hasn’t read Amore’s bill but exempting petty misdemeanors is not a deal-breaker for her group.

She said petty misdemeanors can include domestic disorderly conduct crimes. She said those crimes usually carry shorter sentences and are generally viewed by courts as not as serious.

Amore last year introduced a bill that was gutted by the House’s Democratic leadership and was replaced with a weaker Senate version in the final hours of the session. Domestic violence prevention advocates have said the bill that passed last year was ineffective because it merely clarified how felons who can’t have guns must surrender them.

“It didn’t really address the problem we’re trying to address,” DeBare said.

The Rhode Island Second Amendment Coalition last year criticized the gun control proposals from Amore and Tanzi. It described Tanzi’s as using an “overly broad and flawed definition” of domestic violence as “a front for full-blown gun confiscation.”

A representative for the group did not return a request for comment on the newly introduced legislation.

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