Rhode Island significantly strengthened its domestic violence firearm laws in 2017.1
Unlike federal law, Rhode Island law previously did not prohibit people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from purchasing or possessing firearms or ammunition, and also did not prohibit people convicted of domestic violence felonies from purchasing or possessing firearms after two years. Prior to 2017, Rhode Island law also authorized, but did not require, courts to prohibit people subject to domestic violence protective orders from acquiring or possessing guns.
However, Rhode Island still does not expressly authorize or require law enforcement officers to remove firearms from the scene of a domestic violence incident, and generally requires courts to restore firearm rights to people convicted of certain domestic violence misdemeanors, upon request, once five years have elapsed from the completion of their sentence.
Firearm Prohibitions for People Convicted of Domestic Violence Crimes
Rhode Island law now generally prohibits people from purchasing, owning, carrying, transporting, or having in their possession any firearms if they have been convicted of (or plead no contest to) a domestic violence offense that is punishable as a felony under state law.2
Rhode Island’s firearm prohibition also applies to people who have been convicted of specified domestic violence misdemeanors that are not punishable as felonies, including the crimes of simple assault and violation of a protective order.3 Note, however, that people convicted of these offenses are authorized to petition a district court to regain their firearm rights under state law starting five years after the person completed his or her sentence.4 The court is required to lift the person’s firearm prohibition if the court finds that five years have elapsed, and that the person has not been convicted of a subsequent domestic violence misdemeanor, and is not otherwise prohibited from possessing firearms (although the person may still be subject to federal firearm prohibitions).5
Prior to 2017, Rhode Island only prohibited offenders convicted of domestic violence crimes punishable as a felony and for a period of only two years following conviction.
Firearm Prohibitions for Persons Subject to Domestic Violence Restraining/Protective Orders
A 2017 Rhode Island law6 also now prohibits people subject to domestic violence protective orders from possessing or acquiring firearms if the order was issued following notice to the respondent and a hearing.7 Previously, courts were authorized but not required to prohibit people subject to protective orders from acquiring or possessing firearms.
Removal or Surrender of Firearms When A Person Is Convicted of Domestic Violence Crimes
Rhode Island law now requires courts to advise every person who is convicted (or pleads guilty) to a prohibiting domestic violence conviction about their obligation to relinquish all firearms to the State Police, local law enforcement, or a licensed firearms dealer within 24 hours, and also requires courts to inform the arresting law enforcement agency of the firearm relinquishment order.8 Courts are also required to “ensure” that that the convicted person relinquishes any firearms in accordance with state law.9
The law enforcement agency or gun dealer that takes possession of the convicted defendant’s firearms is required to issue a “proof of surrender” form to the person that includes the name of the person relinquishing the firearms, the name of the law enforcement agency or gun dealer accepting them, the serial number, manufacturer, and model of all relinquished firearms, and the date they were relinquished.10
Within 48 hours after being served with the firearm relinquishment order, the convicted person must either:
- File a copy of the proof of surrender form with the court and attest that all firearms owned by the defendant or in the defendant’s possession, care, custody or control at the time of the plea or conviction have been relinquished in accordance with state law and that the defendant currently owns no firearms or has any firearms in their care, custody or control; or
- Attest that, at the time of the plea or conviction, the defendant did not own any firearms and had no firearms in their care, custody or control, and that the defendant currently owns no firearms and has no firearms in their possession, care, custody or control.11
The court’s copy of the proof of surrender form is required to be kept under seal and is not part of the public record.12
Removal or Surrender of Firearms When Domestic Violence Restraining/Protective Orders Are Issued
Rhode Island law now expressly prohibits people from acquiring or possessing firearms if they are subject to an active protective order that was issued after they received notice of the proceedings and had an opportunity to be heard.13 Rhode Island also authorizes a person suffering from domestic abuse to seek a court protective order requiring the person abusing them to relinquish possession or control of any firearms he or she owns or possesses before he or she has received notice of the proceedings, provided that a full hearing is held within fifteen days of the date the respondent relinquished his or her firearms.14
A person ordered to relinquish possession of any firearms pursuant to a court protective order must relinquish all firearms to the State Police, the local police department, or a federally licensed firearms dealer within 24 hours of receiving notice of the protective order,15 and must, within 72 hours after being served with the order, either file a receipt with the court showing that he or she physically relinquished all firearms, as required, or else attest to the court that he or she had and has no firearms in his or her immediate physical possession or control or subject to his or her immediate physical possession or control.16 At the hearing, the person subject to the protective order has the burden of showing, by clear and convincing evidence, that he or she would not pose a danger to the abuse victim or any other person if their firearm rights were restored.17
If the person subject to the order transfers his or her firearms to a firearms dealer, the person is authorized to instruct the dealer to sell or transfer ownership of the firearms to another “qualified named individual” who is not prohibited from possessing firearms under state or federal law, does not share the respondent’s place of residence, and is not related to the person relinquishing the firearms by blood, marriage, or family relationship.18 Any person or law enforcement agency that takes possession of the relinquished firearms is prohibited from returning them to the person until they have received documentation issued by a court indicating that the firearm-prohibiting court order has expired and not been extended.19
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- See 2017 RI HB 5510 and its identical Senate counterpart, 2017 RI SB 405.
- See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-47-5(a)(3)– (a)(5), 12-29-5.
- R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-47-5.5.
- R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-47-5.5(e), (g).
- See 2017 RI HB 5510 and its identical Senate counterpart, 2017 RI SB 405.
- R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-47-5(b), 8-8.1-3(a)(4), (c).
- R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-47-5.4, 12-29-5(d).
- R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-29-5(h).
- R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-47-5.4(a).
- R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-47-5.4(a)(3).
- R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-47-5.4(a)(4).
- R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-47-5(b).
- R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-3(c); 15-15-3(a)(4).
- R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-3(a)(4); 15-15-3(a)(4).
- R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-3(a)(4)(i); 15-15-3(a)(4)(i).
- R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-3(j); 15-15-3(j.
- R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-3(a)(4)(ii); 15-15-3(a)(4)(ii).
- R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-3(a)(4)(iii), (iv); 8-8.1-3(d); 15-15-3(a)(4)(iii), (iv); 15-15-3(d).