Gun-rights supporters packed into the Rhode Island Statehouse Thursday to urge opposition to a series of bills championed by “gun safety” activists and to call for stepped-up efforts to defeat lawmakers who support new gun restrictions.

Speaker after speaker argued the five bills will not reduce gun violence in Rhode Island and will instead infringe on the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

“The issue is mental health and our children,” said Michael O’Neil, vice president of the Rhode Island 2nd Amendment Coalition. “The issue is that we’re not securing our schools. We’re not looking at what the issue is. We’re looking for the political nonsense of let’s pass this bill just to get a political carrot, if you want to call it that.”

With a string of mass shootings -- including one last week marked by the shooting deaths of 19 children and two adults in Uvalde, Texas -- the gun debate has taken on higher intensity in the waning weeks of Rhode Island’s General Assembly session.

Rhode Island ranks among the states with the lowest rates of deaths due to guns.

Supporters of more stringent regulations, including Gov. Dan McKee, contend that bringing Rhode Island in line with Connecticut and Massachusetts -- which ban large-capacity magazines and “assault weapons” -- will diminish the likelihood of a tragedy here.

Gun-rights supporters see the issue differently.

“We are tired of being used as a scapegoat for these tragedies,” said Brenda Jacob of the Rhode Island Rifle and Revolver Association. “We do everything in our power to protect our families, our community and our state, and then they use us as propaganda to push their agenda -- and we’ve had enough. It’s time to vote those people out of office.”

On Tuesday, top state elected leaders, union officials and people associated with the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence rallied outside the Statehouse to urge support for legislation.

Earlier that day, House Speaker Joe Shekarchi and Senate Dominick Ruggiero issued a statement pledging passage of what they called meaningful gun bills before the end of session, although the details remain opaque for now.

Different bills would cap magazine capacity at 10 rounds; ban sales of new “assault weapons,” impose new requirements on gun storage; raise the age for possessing a long gun from 18 to 21, and ban open carry of long guns in a public place.

On Thursday afternoon, the gun-rights supporters urged lawmakers to oppose the legislation. They also encouraged their like-minded gun enthusiasts to get more politically active.

“The only thing these people in this building understand is when you step up and run against them,” said Frank Saccoccio of the Rhode Island 2nd Amendment Coalition. “If they’re not going to support you, you need to get people or you need to run for office yourself.”

A handful of state lawmakers spoke during the demonstration, including state Rep. Camille Vella-Wilkinson (D-Warwick).

“I’m a Democrat and I’m a member of the NRA,” Vella-Wilkinson said to applause. She said people who are taught to respect guns and the law are not responsible for gun violence.

Ian Donnis can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @IanDon. Sign up here for his free weekly RI politics newsletter.