Updated Mar. 1: Several hundred gun advocates rallied at the State House on Thursday, Feb. 28 against the bill. To read the story, click here.
Representative Linda Finn (D-Dist. 72, Middletown, Portsmouth) has introduced legislation aimed at enabling police to better track guns in their communities.
The legislation would require gun owners to register their weapons with their local police or the state police, and allow police to keep copies of applications for gun purchases sent to them for background checks.
“It’s surprising that Rhode Island doesn’t already do this," said Finn. "Our current law requires background checks, a seven-day waiting period and applications for anyone who wants to buy a gun, but actually requires police to destroy the record of the application afterward."
Under the legislation (2013-H 5573), anyone who possesses a firearm would be required to register the gun with their local police. Failure to do so would result in up to three years in prison and fines of up to $3,000.
Additionally, police would no longer be required to destroy the applications for the purchase of a gun.
The legislation bars the release of the information contained in those records to anyone other than law enforcement agencies for legitimate law enforcement purposes.
The law would also add a requirement that all guns sold in the state be equipped with a safety device, either separately installed or as part of the gun’s design, to prevent the accidental discharge or discharge by unauthorized users.
Rhode Island does not require registration or licensing for gun ownership. Anyone 18 and over can purchase a rifle or shotgun by filling out an application for purchase, passing a background check and waiting seven days. To purchase a pistol or revolver legally, one must be at least 21 years old, complete a basic pistol/revolver training course offered by the Department of Environmental Management, submit the application, pass the background check and wait seven days. The only license that is required is for those who wish to carry a concealed pistol or revolver.
By comparison, Massachusetts requires a gun license for anyone to possess handguns, and a firearms ID card for possession of a rifle or shotgun. Getting either requires a safety training course. The state maintains records of all such licenses as well as all firearms sold, transferred or registered in the state. Like the law that Representative Finn is proposing, Massachusetts prohibits the release of that information to anyone outside criminal justice agencies.
Like lawmakers around the country, Representative Finn said the tragedy in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was what prompted her to look at Rhode Island’s gun laws.
Current law requires them to destroy the application after the background check is complete, and anyone found keeping them or using the information in them for any reason can be fined up to $1,000. Representative Finn’s bill would eliminate that prohibition and fine.
“We don’t let people drive a car or a boat or even attach a trailer to their vehicle without registering it, but we don’t require any kind of registration for guns," said the lawmaker.
Just as registration doesn’t prevent drivers from owning cars, it isn’t designed to stop gun owners from having guns, she said. It would simply give law enforcement officers a way to know where they are.
Representative Finn said she is looking forward to discussing the bill in committee, and to listening to advocates on all sides of the issue to help amend the bill in ways that will make it work best for Rhode Island.