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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Safe weapons storage bill advances to House floor

Will common sense or gun nuts prevail?

By Christopher Shea, Rhode Island Current

Gun safety advocates erupted in applause Thursday evening as the House Judiciary Committee voted 9-5 to advance two Democratic bills seeking to strengthen the state’s gun storage law to the State House floor.

“This is a big deal, this will save lives,” Tony Morettini, a volunteer for Moms Demand Action Rhode Island, said after the vote.

The amended legislation sponsored by Rep. Justine Caldwell of East Greenwich and Sen. Pamela Lauria of Barrington requires that all firearms not in use by the owner or another authorized user be stored in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant lock.  

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 existing 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.

Under the proposed amended law, if a child or a person prohibited from using the firearm is injured, the gun owner could face a first-degree charge of criminal storage of a firearm with up to five years in prison and $5,000 in fines.

The advancement of the bill was especially personal for David Viens of Johnston, whose 16-year-old son Dillon died in 2022 of a gunshot to his right eye from a weapon that was not safely stored.

“My son would be alive today if his friend’s gun was properly stored,” Viens said in an interview, fighting through tears. “To come to the State House and fight for justice, it’s not easy — very overwhelming.

Voting against the bill were Democrats David Bennett of Warwick, Arthur Corvese of North Providence, and Thomas Noret of Coventry. Republicans David Place of Burrillville and Sherry Roberts of West Greenwich also opposed the legislation.

Rep. Jason Knight, a Barrington Democrat who co-sponsored Caldwell’s legislation, was not present for Thursday’s vote. 

Caldwell and Lauria’s bills will likely be on the House calendar for Tuesday, May 28, said chamber spokesperson Larry Berman.

Opponents of the legislation have repeatedly argued that requiring guns to be stored in a locked container could delay their efforts to protect themselves and their families. To address this, Caldwell said the ​​requirement would not apply if the firearm is being carried or “can be readily retrieved and used.”

“We wanted to make these as clear as possible since these bills are more likely to be challenged in court,” she said in an interview before the vote.

Lauria’s bill, which was passed by the Senate in March, has also since been amended to include this change. Should her legislation clear the House next week, it will have to go before the full Senate again.

But Rhode Island Second Amendment Coalition President Frank Saccoccio said the language in Caldwell’s legislation is still too vague.

“If you go from one judge to another judge, you’re going to get differing opinions,” he said. “If I get up to answer the door and leave a gun on the table, the judge may find that to not be readily accessible — it’s another encroachment into Second Amendment rights without proper safeguards.”

Viens said he understands the opposition from Saccoccio and other gun owners, but said keeping weapons properly stored “just comes down to common sense.”

“If you’re not home, just lock your guns up,” he said. 



Rhode Island Current is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Rhode Island Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Janine L. Weisman for questions: Follow Rhode Island Current on Facebook and Twitter.