With the General Assembly’s passage of a statute to expand the government’s ability to eliminate people’s Second Amendment right to bear arms, I revisited my August post on the legislation, in which I wrote:
The anti-gun bills set to come back for consideration in a few weeks when the General Assembly reconvenes (H5510 and S0405) have been sold as only limiting the Second Amendment rights of those with restraining orders against them, but it also would confiscate the weapons of Americans who have misdemeanor convictions for a broad variety of crimes, including, for example, cyberstalking, which is vague, and disorderly conduct involving the use of force.
In other words, a person who protests government action in a peaceful but forceful way, with something tagged as the “use of force” (say, linking arms and “using force” not to be pulled apart) would give the government pretense to remove his or her constitutional rights. Keep in mind, too, the slippery slope initiated by some progressives’ insistence that “hate speech” isn’t covered by “free speech”; the First Amendment is only one step removed from the Second.
With my memory about the legislation refreshed, these paragraphs require some further explanation.
The language of the legislation includes misdemeanors for disorderly conduct, cyberstalking, and so on, but only for “offenses punishable as a misdemeanor under §12-29-5,” which is the state’s domestic violence statute. My key concern is that the phrase, “punishable as,” describes the nature of a crime, not the actual offense committed by an individual. The language should have been something more like: “offenses that were punished as a misdemeanor.”
The bill itself provides illustration of the contrast. It is very clear that a”disorderly conduct conviction shall result in prohibition under this section if and only if the offense involves the use or attempted use of force or the threatened use of a dangerous weapon.” But there is no “if and only if” implied in the phrase, “punishable as,” in describing when disorderly conduct can lose a person his or her guns, and a judge could easily conclude that the legislature would have put that language there if it had wanted it to apply.
This reading is reinforced by the fact that this section of the legislation also bars firearms from anybody who has been convicted of any crime of violence or being a fugitive of justice, whether or not domestic violence is involved. Keep in mind that, while legislators packaged this section of the bill with another one about restraining orders for domestic violence, the two sections will actually be in different places in the Rhode Island General Laws, so the connection of this section to domestic violence will be less strong in the law than in the bill.
Obviously, if your fear is that the government will use the pretense of a protest to take guns away, then you won’t have a great deal of confidence that the government will faithfully uphold the stated intention of the legislation. My concern is that a judge could say that disorderly conduct with force, as an offense in general, can sometimes be punishable as domestic violence, so the law therefore allows confiscation of guns from those who engage in disorderly conduct with force in any circumstance.
When the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity reviews legislation, we’re not just looking at what legislators say they intend, but what the laws might really do, whether inadvertently or as a side effect. Our basic constitutional rights demand a much wider margin of protection.