Senate OKs bill requiring safe storage of firearms


STATE HOUSE – The Senate today approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Pamela J. Lauria to require safe storage of firearms in Rhode Island.

The legislation (2024-S 2202aa) 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.

The legislation, which passed on a 28-7 vote, now heads to the House of Representatives, where Rep. Justine A. Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich) is sponsoring companion legislation (2024 -H 7373).

“Nationwide, firearms are the number one killer of children. 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,” said Senator Lauria (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence). “I would like to thank Senate leadership and my colleagues for their support of this important legislation.”

Under the legislation, 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.

President of the Senate Dominick J. Ruggerio said, “The Senate has worked to enact numerous firearms safety legislation over the years to protect public safety without infringing upon the constitutional rights of firearms owners, including our state’s Red Flag law, a prohibition on high-capacity magazines, and the Safe Schools Act. This is another common-sense step that we can take to improve public safety. I am proud to support it, and grateful to Senator Lauria for her leadership on the issue.”

Senate Majority Leader Ryan W. Pearson, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, made Senate consideration of safe-storage legislation a personal priority of his this session.

“I am deeply grateful to Senator Lauria not only for her sponsorship but her leadership on safe storage. This legislation would not have the level of support it does without her advocacy,” he said. “Safe storage is a safety precaution that responsible gun owners already take. It lowers the risk of injury for children and teens, and helps prevent suicides and gun thefts.”

Senator Lauria has advocated for common-sense gun safety laws for years. She noted that many tragedies 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.

The bill is cosponsored by Majority Leader Pearson (D-Dist. 19, Cumberland, Lincoln), Majority Whip Valarie J. Lawson (D-Dist. 14, East Providence), President Pro Tempore Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick), Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown), and Senators Alana M. DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown, New Shoreham), Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), Walter S. Felag, Jr. (D-Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton), Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton) and Sandra Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket).