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Friday, March 15, 2024

Federal appeals court upholds Rhode Island ban on high capacity magazines

Gun nuts upset by common sense decision

By Christopher Shea, Rhode Island Current

A federal appeals court has upheld Rhode Island’s 2022 law banning gun magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, rejecting arguments by a group of gun owners that the legislation violated the Second Amendment.

The three-member panel of the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday ruled that Rhode Island’s ban was “consistent with our relevant tradition of gun regulation” in rejecting a challenge filed by a group of gun-rights advocates.

The group included Glocester-based Big Bear Fishing and Hunting, along with Rhode Island gun owners Mary Brimer, James Grundy, Jeffrey Goyette, and Jonathan Hirons. 

Defendants in the case were Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha and Rhode Island State Police Col. Darnell Weaver. 

Big Bear co-owner Will Worthy told Rhode Island Current Friday afternoon he was “disheartened,” but not surprised by the court’s decision.

“I shake my head,” he said.

Worthy, who is also president of the Glocester Town Council, blasted the state law which took effect Dec.18, 2022. He said all it did was prevent responsible gun owners from keeping their homes safe and took away what he said were standard-capacity magazines.

“High-capacity magazines are anything over 30,” he said. “If you got a bad guy coming into your house, with 10 rounds you might put two holes in that person.”

Glenn Valentine, the president of the Rhode Island Second Amendment PAC, also wasn’t shocked by the ruling.

“There isn’t any combination of any judges in that circuit that are going to side with us,” he said in an interview. “It was kind of a long shot.”

The challenge came after Rhode Island U.S. District Chief Judge John J. McConnell Jr. in December 2022 refused to grant a preliminary injunction from the group to block the law. With the Circuit Court’s ruling, Rhode Island joins 13 states and Washington D.C. in tightening regulation on firearms magazines.

Under the 2022 law, gun-owners were given a 180-day grace period to modify their high-capacity magazines, sell them to out-of-state firearms dealers, or surrender them to police. Anyone found in possession of a high-capacity magazine could face up to five years in prison or a $5,000 fine.

Valentine called the magazine ban “the worst in the country,” saying states like California and Massachusetts — which passed similar laws in recent years — allow people who already have high-capacity magazines to keep them.

“It sucks,” he said.

The Circuit Court, meanwhile, said the state was justified in passing the law due to public safety concerns.

“Rhode Island was confronted with a societal concern regarding the frequency with which [large-capacity magazines] are facilitating mass murder,” the Court said. “The concern is unprecedented and growing, and could not have been confronted — let alone resolved — by our founders.”

Victory or much ado about nothing?

Neronha celebrated the court’s ruling, posting on X Thursday evening that it was a “complete and convincing win for the state.”

“We truly are stronger than ever,” Neronha said.

First Circuit Court of Appeals today UPHELD RI ban on large capacity magazines. Complete and convincing win for the state. Grateful to the Assistant Attorneys General who worked this case so brilliantly. We truly are stronger than ever.

— Peter Neronha (@PeterNeronha) March 7, 2024

Valentine, meanwhile, contends the ruling is not as big a win as Neronha makes it out to be.

“We lost the injunction,” he said. “They didn’t even hear the case on the merits.”

Gregg Lee Carter, a professor emeritus of sociology at Bryant University who researches gun control, disagreed with Valentine’s assessment. He said the ruling “was momentous for the state of Rhode Island and its residents.”

“It will assuredly be used by other state and federal courts in their rulings on the constitutionality of gun regulations,” he said in an email Friday afternoon. “It also has important implications for the national gun debate.

Carter said this ruling by the Circuit Court effectively reduces fears gun safety advocates had in the wake of the  U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial 2022 New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen decision.

The Bruen decision, he said, put impossibly high standards on legislatures to pass gun safety/control laws by requiring such laws be justified by the “Nation’s historical tradition of firearms regulation.” 

“This new ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals now joins many similar court rulings over the past year and a half that the Bruen decision does not mean that the Second Amendment imposes a ‘regulatory straitjacket’ regarding gun safety laws,” Carter said.

Valentine, though, said he believes the case is far from settled. He said he anticipates challenges from other states to go to the U.S. Supreme Court within the next 18 months.

“I guess we kind of sit on the sidelines and wait to see what happens,” he said. 



Rhode Island Current is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Rhode Island Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Janine L. Weisman for questions: Follow Rhode Island Current on Facebook and Twitter.