House approves bill requiring safe storage of firearms


STATE HOUSE – The House of Representatives today approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Justine Caldwell and Sen. Pamela J. Lauria to require safe storage of firearms in Rhode Island.

The legislation (2024-H 7373A, 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 46-24 vote, now heads to the Senate, which in March passed Senator Lauria’s bill before it underwent revisions in the House.

“Requiring that all firearms be stored safely is a huge step forward for the safety of Rhode Islanders of all ages, one that has been a goal for many years among those of us who work to protect against gun violence. Leaving a lethal weapon where anyone else can use it is an invitation to tragedy. Ensuring that all weapons are stored in a way that keeps them out of the hands that shouldn’t touch them protects not only the public in general, but gun owners and their families in particular. I am proud that Rhode Island is joining the ranks of states that recognize that responsible gun ownership must include secure storage,” said Representative Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich).

Said Senator Lauria (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence) “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. 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.

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 legislation is supported by all five of the state’s general officers. The House bill is cosponsored by Rep. Jason Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren), Rep. Deborah Fellela (D-Dist. 43, Johnston), Rep. José Batista (D-Dist. 12, Providence), Rep. Jennifer Boylan (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence), Majority Whip Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence, Pawtucket), Rep. Kathleen A. Fogarty (D-Dist. 35, South Kingstown), Rep. Jennifer A. Stewart (D-Dist. 59, Pawtucket), Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett), and Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston).

The Senate bill is cosponsored by Senate 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).