Safe firearms storage is bare minimum for safety, sponsors say


STATE HOUSE – According to a federal study of a decade of school shootings, 76% of school shooters between 2008 and 2017 obtained the firearms they used from the home of their parents or another close relative. In half of those cases, the weapons they used were either easily accessible or not secured in any meaningful way.

Keeping firearms safely stored and out of the hands of children and others who shouldn’t have access to them is the bare minimum standard to which gun owners should be held, say Rep. Justine A. Caldwell and Sen. Pamela J. Lauria, the sponsors of legislation to require safe storage of all firearms in Rhode Island.

“It is not asking too much to expect those who own lethal weapons to secure them to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. Just as our state requires drivers to have insurance because we recognize the potential that vehicles have to inflict harm on others, in the interest of public safety, we should require that gun owners take responsibility for securing their weapons,” said Representative Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich).

Said Senator Lauria (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence), “No one can call themselves a responsible gun owner if they are leaving a gun where someone else can use it. Unsecured guns have harmed countless children as well as family members or friends who have accessed them for the purpose of suicide or crime. When a gun isn’t under the owner’s control, it’s not safe anywhere unless it’s secured. Responsible gun owners already do this, but it should be a requirement, not an option.”

The legislation (2022-H 5434) would require that all firearms, when not in use by the owner or another authorized user, be stored in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety device properly engaged in order to render the firearm inoperable.

Massachusetts and Connecticut already have similar laws.

Under the bill, unsafe storage of a firearm would be a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $250 for a first offense and $1,000 for a second. Any subsequent violation would be punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine of up to $500.

Currently, Rhode Island punishes those who leave a firearm where a child can get it, but only if it is loaded and the child causes injury with it. Those convicted face a fine of $1,000 but no jail time.

The bill also expands that law, so it applies regardless of whether the gun is loaded, and extends it to cover not only children but adults who are prohibited by law from possessing firearms. Violators would be charged with second-degree criminal firearm storage if such a person were able to gain access to the improperly stored weapon, and face up to a year in prison and up to $1,000 in fines. If the child or prohibited person were to cause injury with the firearm, the person responsible for the improper storage of the gun could face a first-degree charge, with up to 5 years in prison and $5,000 in fines.

The sponsors, both of whom have been advocates for common-sense gun safety laws for years, point to the many tragedies that could be avoided if children and others did not have access to unsecured guns.

According to Sandy Hook Promise, three out of four children with guns at home know the location of their parent’s gun in the home. One-third of these children admitted to handling the gun unsupervised. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, there were at least 2,070 unintentional shootings by children under 18 years old between Jan. 1, 2015, and Dec. 31, 2020.

But it isn’t only children who are at risk when weapons are left unsecured. Patti Alley of South Kingstown, who has testified in support of the bill in previous years, believes her sister Allyson Dosreis would still be alive if she had not had easy access to her partner’s gun. Suffering through COVID-related business struggles and a breakup in which her partner suddenly listed their home for sale, she ended her life using his gun, which he – a firearm safety instructor – stored in an easily accessible place.