Rhode Island Leaders Press for Universal Background Checks to Prevent Gun Violence

PROVIDENCE – U.S. Congressman David N. Cicilline (RI-01) and Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha held a press conference this afternoon at Family Service of Rhode Island with gun violence prevention advocates to discuss legislation the U.S. House sent to the Senate last week to require background checks on all gun sales in the United States.

“Background checks work. Since the current system was put in place, more than 3.5 million sales of firearms have been blocked for criminals and individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others,” said Cicilline. “Unfortunately, more than one out of every five guns are still being acquired without a background check today. We have to do better. That’s why the House took action to implement universal background checks last week. I hope the Senate will take these bills up as soon as possible.”

“Background checks at a state and federal level serve a crucial purpose – to ensure that those who are legally prohibited from possessing a firearm cannot acquire one,” said Attorney General Neronha. “Expanding the scope and capability of federal background checks to close current loopholes will help make sure we can keep firearms out of the hands of individuals who should not have them, period. I applaud the efforts of Congressman Cicilline and the United States House of Representatives for their work on an issue that will keep Rhode Islanders safe.”

The U.S. House approved two bills last Thursday to implement universal background checks on gun sales:

  • H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act – which requires a background check for every gun sale or transfer to ensure that individuals already prohibited from gun possession under federal law, such as felons, domestic abusers and those who are considered a danger to themselves or others, are not able to obtain firearms.
  • H.R. 1446, the Enhanced Background Checks Act – which would end the Charleston Loophole that enabled the horrific hate crime at Mother Emanuel AME Church that killed nine innocent people. The Charleston Loophole currently allows the sale of a firearm to proceed if a background check is not completed within three business days.

“It's been a decade since I lost my daughter to a senseless act of gun violence, and it’s been 25 years since our federal government last passed a gun safety law; I am hopeful that the wait for this life-saving legislation will finally be over,” said Diana Garlington, whose daughter was killed in a shooting in 2011.

“We need more than thoughts and prayers to prevent gun violence – we need action. And that begins with H.R. 8 and background checks on all gun sales. This is especially true during the pandemic with gun sales skyrocketing in stores and online,” said Jennifer Boylan, Volunteer Legislative Lead, Rhode Island Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, part of Everytown for Gun Safety.

Executive Director Tonya King Harris of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence said, “During the pandemic where gun sales have increased with many purchases are happening online and calls to our helplines and hotlines have spiked, we need to close loopholes that could potentially let people with histories of domestic violence 'slip through the cracks.' By enacting the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021 bill and the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021 into law, abusers are not able to purchase firearms elsewhere in the country in online sales or 'gun shows,' and background checks are not rushed, and made more thorough. These bills can save lives.”

“The Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV) thanks Congressman Cicilline and the other members of Congress who recently voted to pass two critical pieces of gun safety legislation. Requiring background checks for all gun purchases and closing the “Charlestown loophole” that allowed a white supremacist to murder nine congregants at a historically black church in South Carolina will make all Americans safer from gun violence without impinging upon any rights conferred by the Constitution. These measures enjoy broad bipartisan support among voters and the Senate should move quickly to pass these life-saving measures,” said W. Peter Bilderback, Vice-Chair, Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence.

Well over 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks – including 85 percent of gun-owning households, as well as dozens of leading law enforcement, veterans, local government, public health and other groups such as Major Cities Chiefs Association, VoteVets, Police Executive Research Forum, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Hispanic American Police Commanders Association and the American Medical Association.

This bipartisan support is because background checks work. Since 1994, when background checks were first implemented, they have stopped more than 3 million dangerous people from getting guns. In 2017 alone, due to background checks, more than 170,000 sales were denied – 39 percent of them to convicted felons. Every day where background checks are used they stop more than 160 felons and some 50 domestic abusers from buying a gun.

Yet, due to existing loopholes that allow unlicensed gun sellers to sell guns without a background check, the background check system is not working as well as it should, with up to 80 percent of firearms used for criminal purposes currently sold without background checks. The Charleston Loophole alone allows the sale of hundreds of thousands of guns to potentially dangerous individuals each year. Cases of the Charleston Loophole exception are particularly common in domestic violence cases.

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