Court strikes down challenge to RI’s concealed carry permit laws

By: Jack Perry

The Providence Journal. Published June 27th, 2023

AG Neronha says his office successfully defended constitutional challenge to RI concealed-carry permit laws.

A constitutional challenge of Rhode Island’s concealed carry permitting laws was denied in Superior Court, according to a news release from Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha.

The challenge was brought in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year ruling that New York state’s gun permitting process was unconstitutional because it required applicants to demonstrate “a special need” for self protection. The ruling also affected six other states.

What happened in the case?

After the Supreme Court’s June 2022 “Bruen decision,” Neronha issued an advisory to Rhode Islanders and local police chiefs saying he believed the state’s permitting process was constitutional and was not impacted by the decision.

Nevertheless, eight defendants charged with carrying a pistol without a permit asked the Superior Court to dismiss their cases, arguing that Rhode Island’s concealed-carry permitting statutes were unconstitutional, violating their right to bear arms under the Second Amendment.

Superior Court Justice Kristen E. Rodgers last week denied their motions, ruling that Rhode Island’s permitting process is constitutional and also that several of the defendants did not have standing to bring their challenge, according to Neronha. The decision was issued on June 23, one year to the day of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bruen decision.

In issuing his advisories last year, Neronha explained that Rhode Island’s permitting process differed from New York’s. The Supreme Court took issue with New York’s requirement that applicants “demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community,” Neronha noted. He said the court found that violated the Second Amendment because it “prevented law abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their to keep and bear arms.”

In Rhode Island, residents can apply for licenses to carry a concealed pistol or revolver either from their local municipality, usually the police department, or the attorney general, according to Neronha. Wording of the law governing the two avenues differs. It says municipalities “shall issue” permits to qualified, suitable applicants who meet certain legal requirements, while the attorney general “may issue” permits.

Rhode Island courts have “considered this dual licensing scheme and concluded that” since Rhode Island law provides for “both discretionary and mandatory licensing to qualified applicants, the constitutional guarantee to keep and bear arms is fulfilled,” Neronha wrote police chiefs.

Rhode Island police chiefs must still determine whether an applicant “is a suitable person to be licensed” and the Supreme Court confirmed they can still require that applicants meet standards such as fingerprinting, undergoing criminal background checks and mental health checks, and having firearms training, Neronha said.

In the municipal permitting process, applicants are asked for a proper showing of need, but Neronha noted that a previous Rhode Island case determined an applicant’s status as a gun collector was sufficient.

“You may inquire as to the reason for which a person might seek a license but you may only use that information to assess whether an applicant can meet the suitability requirement,” Neronha wrote. “You may not use that information to deny a license for lack of sufficiently good reason for carrying a firearm.”

Some of the defendants were under 21 when the charges were brought and argued their rights were violated because the state requirements permit holders to be at least 21. Rodgers noted that “similar age restrictions are part of the historical tradition of firearms regulation, and their challenges were dismissed,” Neronha said.

Rodgers also found that defendants over the age of 21 did not have legal standing to challenge, because they did not apply for permits.

Neronha said, “This Office is fighting on many fronts to ensure that Rhode Island has common sense gun laws that our police and prosecutors can use to keep Rhode Islanders safe. This decision affirms that Bruen does not change an important piece of Rhode Island’s concealed-carry permitting framework – that persons need to be 21 years old to carry a gun.”

With Rodgers’ dismissal of the challenge, the case against the eight defendants can go forward, Neronha said.

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