- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 13, 2017

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A proposal to take guns away from domestic abusers and people under domestic restraining orders could be heading to a vote in the Rhode Island legislature after years of debate.

Proponents and opponents of the legislation agree that momentum has been building to put it to a vote this month.

The bill’s House sponsor, South Kingstown Democratic state Rep. Teresa Tanzi, said “the bill has changed and improved over the years and we built a broader coalition this year.”

One provision would prohibit gun possession by people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes. It would expand on existing laws that disarm violent felons.

Another provision would require automatic confiscation of guns from people under certain domestic restraining orders, even if they aren’t convicted of a crime.

Confiscation would only happen after a second hearing and a court’s ruling issuing a final protective order.

Judges who issue restraining orders already have discretion to restrict gun ownership, but domestic violence prevention advocates say they too often don’t.

Fueling the momentum behind this year’s legislation has been testimony from people describing to legislators their own personal experiences with domestic violence and guns.

“I was fortunate enough to be able to get out of my relationship and not get shot, but there are so many others who don’t,” said Giovanna Rodriguez, of Sisters Overcoming Abusive Relationships, who spoke at a recent hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A spokesman for Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has said the bill is “very much alive” and the speaker, who traditionally favors looser gun laws, is looking carefully at House passage of the bill. Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has submitted written testimony supporting it.

Gun rights groups say it goes too far in infringing on the due process rights of law-abiding gun owners.

“Even if a firearm is not alleged to have been used in the commission of a crime, you’re ordering that to be taken away,” said Frank Saccoccio, president of the Rhode Island Second Amendment Coalition. “It doesn’t seem right.”

The National Rifle Association has also weighed in, calling on Rhode Island gun owners to speak out soon before lawmakers wrap up their annual session.

“We have every indication that lawmakers plan to amend and move this package of bills,” the group said in a Friday blog post.

That the legislation is moving forward is one issue that both sides appear to agree on.

“It definitely feels different this year,” said bill proponent Deborah DeBare, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Last year, I was hopeful but not optimistic. This year I’m optimistic. We’ve refined the bill. We’ve addressed some of the concerns.”

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