By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - Rhode Island's independent governor and Democratic leaders on Tuesday proposed a package of laws to clamp down on guns, including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, becoming the latest state to address gun violence after the December school shooting in neighboring Connecticut that left 20 first-graders dead.
Governor Lincoln Chaffee and leaders of the Democratic-controlled legislature said they realized the proposals would face opposition from gun-rights proponents, but said it was time to act in the face of violence.
The December shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, which also claimed the lives of six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, sparked a fresh round of debate on gun control in the United States, where the Second Amendment of the Constitution protects the right to bear arms.
"We have to reconcile what the Second Amendment says and what's happening in our streets and our schools. And that's the goal of this legislation," Chafee said. "The violence in our streets, in our neighborhood, in our schools, is intolerable."
Maryland, Connecticut, New York and Colorado have all passed laws tightening regulations on the sale and ownership of firearms since the Newtown shooting.
The Rhode Island proposals, which include nine separate bills, would ban the sale, purchase of, possession of all semi-automatic weapons, as well as clips capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition, beginning July 1. The measures would also place significant restrictions on the possession and use of firearms by minors under 18 and make it a crime to possess a firearm with its serial number removed.
Gun rights advocates in Connecticut and New York had argued that restrictions on gun ownership would not improve public safety, saying that criminals would not be influenced by tighter regulations and that new laws would leave citizens less well equipped to defend themselves.
"I'm open to a sound, logical debate on these issues, but there has to be a first step," said Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox. "We as policymakers need to do something."
State Representative Michael Chippendale, a Republican, said he objected to large swaths of the proposal.
"The proposals ... are extremely troubling because, first and foremost, they will do absolutely nothing to prevent any sort of crime," Chippendale said. "These bills are only going to affect law-abiding citizens."
Democrats hold strong majorities in the upper and lower chambers of the state's legislature.
President Barack Obama, as part of his push for new national gun laws, on Monday traveled to Connecticut to make a fresh plea for Americans to pressure their lawmakers to back a proposal that would be the first major gun-related legislation to pass Congress in almost two decades.
Obama's proposal calls for increased background checks of prospective gun buyers, a ban on military-style assault weapons and a limit on ammunition clip size. It faces tough opposition from Republicans as well as the powerful National Rifle Association lobby.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Dan Whitcomb, Leslie Adler and Bob Burgdorfer)