Assembly votes to raise age for gun, ammunition sales to 21

Bill now goes to governor


STATE HOUSE – Three weeks after the horrific mass murder of 19 schoolchildren and two teachers at a Texas elementary school by an 18-year-old gunman, the General Assembly has voted to raise the legal age to purchase firearms or ammunition in Rhode Island from 18 to 21. The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin and Rep. Teresa Tanzi, now goes to the governor, who has said he will sign it.

“People under the age of 21 are already prohibited from buying handguns in Rhode Island, but an 18-year-old — someone who might even still be in high school — can buy rifles and shotguns, including the powerful weapons that are often used in mass shootings. It is well-settled science that teenage and post-teenage brains are still developing. It’s common sense that we shouldn’t be selling lethal weapons to people who we’ve decided are not old enough to buy cigarettes or beer,” said Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence).

Since 2018, six of the nine deadliest mass shootings were carried out by people age 21 or younger.

Said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett), “When our existing law prohibiting people under 21 from buying handguns was enacted in 1959, AR-15s were weapons that even the military didn’t have. No one envisioned that 63 years later, there would be millions of these high-velocity, extraordinarily lethal weapons in the hands of civilians. Certainly no one ever imagined that a teenager would go out and legally buy two of them on his 18th birthday along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, then use them to massacre 19 innocent children and two teachers at school. It’s not 1959. In 2022, we need laws that recognize the incredible killing capacity of modern weapons, and the serious gun violence epidemic we have in this nation. We need to put an end to the years of political inaction that is enabling mass shootings. I’m proud that today in Rhode Island, we are moving in the right direction.”

Current state law bans the sale or possession of handguns to people under 21, but allows them to buy and possess rifles and shotguns. The legislation passed today (2022-H 7457aa, 2022-S 2637A) will make it illegal to sell any firearm or ammunition to anyone under 21, with violations punishable by up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines. The bill contains exceptions for police, state marshals or correctional officers and active duty military or National Guard members.

The sponsors said that, while they understand that no law alone is going to stop mass shootings and other gun violence, they believe it’s important to reduce access to powerful weapons by teenagers and young people, and to stand up for gun safety reform, which is supported by the majority of Americans.

The Senate passed the legislation today with 31-5 vote. The House approved the bill Friday with a vote of 52-16.