STATE HOUSE – Legislation sponsored by Rep. Teresa Tanzi and
Sen. Harold M. Metts to protect victims of domestic violence by disarming their
abusers cleared the General Assembly today. It will now be sent to the
The Protect Rhode Island Families Act (2017-H
0405Aaa) would prohibit gun possession by domestic abusers convicted
of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes and those subject to court-issued final
protective orders, and ensure that all those subject to the prohibition actually
turn in their guns when they become prohibited from possessing them. The bill
takes effect immediately upon passage.
“At last, victims of domestic abuse in Rhode Island will not
have the constant fear of knowing that the person who abused them still has a
gun. We’ve heard countless stories from victims about flagrant threats and
ceaseless fear. And we know that the presence of a gun greatly increases the
chances of a domestic violence victim being murdered. We’ve worked very hard to
get to this point, and the reward will be greater safety for Rhode Island
families,” said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown,
The bill developed to its current form through intense
negotiations over the course of the three years since it was first introduced,
and was the subject of strong public campaigns both for and against it. The
sponsors and advocates reached an agreement that resulted in this amended
version on June 30, but not in time for full passage before the Assembly
recessed that evening.
“This bill will save the lives of people who have already
been through too much, and I’m very proud of that. I’m also very proud of the
way advocates from opposing interests came to the table and worked together so
constructively to help make a bill something that we all can support. This was
a great example of how the democratic process and compromise are supposed to
work for the benefit of our citizens. While no one got everything they would
like, I will say that everyone agreed that victims of domestic violence should
not have to live under legitimate fear for their lives, and we’ve cooperated to
come up with a bill that greatly improves their protection while addressing
Second Amendment concerns,” said Senator Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence).
Under current Rhode Island law, abusers convicted of
misdemeanor domestic violence crimes and those subject to final restraining
orders are not always prohibited from possessing guns nor are they always
required to actually surrender the firearms they already possess once they
become prohibited. Federal law already prohibits most of those convicted of
domestic violence misdemeanors from owning guns, but Rhode Island does not have
a mechanism for ensuring that they actually turn them in.
This bill would close these loopholes by requiring that
abusers are prohibited under state law and are required to turn in their
guns swiftly once they become prohibited from possessing them.
Under the bill, those convicted or pleading to a crime of
domestic violence would have 24 hours to turn in any guns they possess. The act
would apply to domestic violence crimes including assault, cyberstalking and
cyberharrassment, violation of a protective order and disorderly conduct if the
criminal act involves the use or attempted use of force or the threatened use
of a dangerous weapon. Similar laws prohibiting gun possession by those
convicted of misdemeanor domestic abusers exist in 27 states plus Washington,
D.C., including Alabama, Texas, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire.
Under an amendment made on June 30, those subject to a
protective order would have to surrender any guns they own within 24 hours of
receiving notice of the hearing. (The previous draft to the bill would have
allowed the person subject to the accusation to keep guns until the protective
order is finalized by a judge.) At the hearing, which must be within 15 days
under the amendment, the court may choose to maintain the prohibition, or to
immediately return any firearms that were surrendered. The amendment requires
that the subject of the prohibition show clear and convincing evidence that his
or her firearm ownership is not a threat to the alleged victim’s safety.
Once a prohibited individual has completed his or her
sentence, or the protective order has been lifted, he or she would be able to
recover the surrendered firearms. The amendment also returned a provision that
would allow those prohibited from gun possession under the bill to give their
guns to someone other than police or a licensed gun dealer, as long as the
person is not a relative and does not live in the same household as the
prohibited individual. The amendment also adds a requirement that the guns
first be transferred to a licensed firearms dealer, who would ensure that the
third party can legally possess firearms.
According to research by Everytown for Gun Safety,
currently only five percent of domestic abusers under a final protection from
abuse order in Rhode Island are required to turn in their guns. Even in cases
when the restrained party’s record indicated a firearms threat, surrender is
ordered only 13 percent of the time.
When a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, the
woman is five times more likely to be killed, According to Everytown. Guns are
the preferred weapon of intimate partner homicides. Between 1990 and 2005, more
intimate partner homicides in the United State were committed with guns than
all other weapons combined. Between 1980 and 2016, 232 Rhode Islanders died as
a result of domestic violence, and 48 percent of them were killed with guns.