RI Senate approves ‘safe-storage’ gun bill. What to know.

By: Katherine Gregg

Rhode Island Current
Tuesday, March 19, 2024   


PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Senate overwhelmingly approved proposed new “safe-storage” requirements for guns on Tuesday night, despite warnings from a handful of Senators that the law will put law-abiding gun owners at risk “when seconds count.”

The final vote was 28-to-7, with only two Democrats joining the solid bloc of GOP opposition on a day the Department of Children, Youth & Families publicly acknowledged for the first time that between March 2023 and March 2024, DCYF “received reports of four fatalities and one near fatality involving guns.”

Summing up the opposition to the legislation, Senate Minority Leader Jessica de la Cruz told colleagues: “It is very sad to hear when children pass away because of irresponsible storage of firearms. But here’s the thing:

“Most gun owners already safely store their firearms with or without children at home, and I’m one of them,” she said. “My husband and I do not need a new statutory civil or criminal penalties to force us to keep children safe if we have firearms in our home.”

But the lead advocate within the Senate − Sen. Pam Lauria − said existing law does not go far enough to prevent tragedies, such as those recounted in heart-wrenching detail at legislative hearings on the bill.

“As a society, we have poured immense resources into pediatric cancer treatment because no child should be lost to cancer if we can do anything about it,” she said. “We have passed and accepted mandates for seat belts…in our vehicles because no child should needlessly die in a motor vehicle accident if we can help it.

“This bill seeks to offer similar safeguards for the number one reason American children die: guns,” she said.

The vote, by chance, came within days of this USA Today headline from Detroit: “School Gunman’s Dad Guilty of Manslaughter.”

There, James Crumbley, the father of a school shooter who killed four students and injured seven other people at Oxford High School in November 2021, was found guilty of failing to secure a gun at home and doing nothing to address acute signs of his son’s mental turmoil. Crumbley – and months earlier, his wife – were convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Safe storage bill draws opposition from Republicans

The proposed new Rhode Island safe-storage law follows years of heart-wrenching testimony of family members left behind by a suicide in Warwick, as well as the accidental shooting death of a Johnston teenager at the hands of a friend playing with his uncle’s unlocked gun.

The three Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room last week cast the only nay votes, when the bill emerged from committee last week.

They included the Senate Minority Leader, de la Cruz, who, in her weekly newsletter, reiterated her belief that the legislation (H2202) co-sponsored by 28 of the 37 current senators is “an infringement on our right to self-defense with a firearm in our homes.”

And she was not alone. As both a Rhode Island National Guardsman and “Firearms Policy Coalition Member,” Christopher Morin of Coventry told the lawmakers in written testimony that the requirement that firearms “be secured in locked containers or equipped with tamper-resistant locks at all times when not in use” is impractical, “could delay or prevent individuals from defending their homes and loved ones in emergencies” and “infringes on the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”

He said the penalties could also add to the trauma of “individuals and families already suffering fromaccidents involving firearms” – presumably their own.

Arguments in support of the bill

But Rhonda Brewster, the mother of the 16-year-old shot to death by his best friend in Johnston in 2022, told legislators during one of the gun hearings last week that she has a chihuahua and a Rottweiler who would alert her of an intruder in plenty of time.

Working in child protective services for the state, she said, she also sees cases where children get into guns and shoot themselves.

“Just within the last four months, we’ve had about six cases of children having access to guns – with their parents’ home – and shooting themselves,” she said.

In response to a Journal inquiry about her statement, DCYF acknowledged the four fatalities and one near fatality involving guns, noting it is “prohibited from sharing additional information.”

For South Kingstown Councilwoman Patricia Alley, last week’s hearings marked the latest in a year-after-year series of visits to the State House to recount the events that led to the suicide of her sister Allyson Dosreis at age 37.

“This bill would prevent other Rhode Island families from enduring the same devastation that my family and I have gone through after the suicide of my sister, Ally, she told the House Judiciary Committee.

Alley told lawmakers how she and her sister got close later in life when she reunited with her birth family. But COVID and the pandemic took a toll on her sister’s hairdressing business, and then her sister’s partner “abruptly” ended their 10-year relationship and listed their house for sale. He was active duty military, Alley said, and when his firearm wasn’t with him, it was in an “easily accessible location known to the family.”

“And when she was at her lowest, she used that gun to end her life,” Alley said.

“Suicide is often an impulsive act,” she told the legislators. “If you can prevent access to a gun, you can short-circuit that impulse and save a life.”

What would the penalties be for violating the safe storage law?

The potential penalties for violating the proposed new Rhode Island safe-storage law start with a fine of up to $250 for a first offense, which would be treated as a civil infraction, to a fine of up to $1,000 for a second offense and up to six months in prison, and a fine of up to $500 for three of more violations.

The penalty gets steeper – a potential year in prison and $1,000 fine – for someone “who knows or reasonably should know that a child” or someone prohibited from purchasing a firearm “is likely to gain access to the firearm.”

The penalty increases exponentially for the gun owner if the unsecured gun is obtained by a child or a person prohibited by state or federal law from having a firearm and is then used to commit a crime or cause injury. Any of those scenarios would be punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Source: https://www.providencejournal.com/story/news/politics/state/2024/03/19/rhode-island-safe-storage-gun-law-comes-up-for-a-vote-tuesday-what-it-means/73016643007/

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