Safe weapons bill passes through Rhode Island Senate

By: Christopher Shea

Rhode Island Current
Tuesday, March 19, 2024   


PROVIDENCE – After advancing out of committee through a partisan vote the week prior, the Democratic-led Rhode Island Senate on Tuesday approved legislation that would require gun owners to safely store their firearms when not in use.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Pam Lauria, a Barrington Democrat, was passed 28-7. All five of the Senate’s Republicans voted against the measure, along with Democrats Leonidas Raptakis of Coventry and Frank Ciccone III of Providence.

Providence Democrats Ana Quezada and Tiara Mack were not present at Tuesday’s session.

“How do we protect our children from the leading cause of death in their age group?” Lauria asked her Senate colleagues. “How do we reduce targeted school gun violence? How do do we reduce children firearm suicides? And how do we reduce gun thefts? Research reveals that locking firearms and ammunition is associated with a dramatic reduction in all of the above.”

Lauria’s bill requires that all firearms be stored in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant lock when not in use by the owner or another authorized user. 

Unsafe storage of guns would also be a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $250 for the first offense and $1,000 for the second. A subsequent violation would be punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine of up to $500.

Under current state law, which was passed in 1995, gun owners can be fined up to $1,000 if a loaded firearm is left within a child’s reach — but only if the child injures themselves or others.

Lauria likened her legislation to vehicle safety laws.

“We have passed and accepted mandates for seatbelts, airbags, and all types of collision protections in our vehicles because no child should needlessly die in a motor vehicle accident if we can help it,” she said.

She also told her fellow senators her bill does not remove anyone’s right to own a gun or use one in a lawful manner.

“It only acknowledges that with those rights come the responsibilities to keep the weapon safely away from being used by children or those that are not lawfully allowed to have it,” Lauria said.

But GOP senators stood firm in their opposition.

Senate Minority Leader Jessica De la Cruz, a North Smithfield Republican, acknowledged that it’s “heart wrenching to hear about children harmed by irresponsible firearms storage,” but said most gun owners already safely store their firearms.

“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.”

The Rhode Island chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action celebrated the bill’s passage.

“We’ve been advocating for stronger secure storage requirements in Rhode Island for years because we know that this is a critical piece of legislation that can keep guns out of the hands of someone who could pose a danger to themselves or others, and ultimately save countless of lives,” volunteer Susan Morettini said in a statement Tuesday.

Lauria’s bill now goes to the House for consideration, where the House Judiciary Committee recently heard testimony for companion legislation sponsored by Rep. Justine Caldwell, an East Greenwich Democrat.

Caldwell’s bill was held for further study by the House Judiciary Committee, as is standard practice when legislation is first heard.


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