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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    Bill requiring safe storage of firearms set to become law in R.I.

    FILE - Pedestrians walk past the Rhode Island Statehouse, March 1, 2020, in Providence, R.I. A bill that would require the safe storage of firearms in Rhode Island has been approved by lawmakers and is awaiting the governor's signature. The bill, which won final approval from lawmakers on Thursday, June 7, 2024, would require 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. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

    Boston — A bill that would require the safe storage of firearms in Rhode Island has been approved by lawmakers and is awaiting the governor's signature.

    The bill, which won final approval from lawmakers on Thursday, would require all firearms, when not in use by the owner or 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.

    The legislation now heads to Gov. Daniel McKee, who plans to sign the bill Thursday.

    Sen. Pamela Lauria, one of the sponsors of the bill, drew parallels to other regulations aimed at protecting children, including insurance mandates for the coverage of pediatric cancer and car seats aimed at protecting children from dying in auto accidents.

    “But gun violence, not cancer or car collisions, is the leading cause of death for children, and that’s unacceptable when we have the tools to decrease its occurrence,” Lauria said. “This is the seat belt law for responsible gun ownership.”

    Massachusetts and Connecticut have similar laws.

    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.

    An analysis released last year by the Pew Research Center found that the number of children and teens killed by gunfire in the United States increased 50% between 2019 and 2021, based on mortality statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Critics of the bill have argued that the bill amounts to infringement on the rights of law-abiding gun owners to defend themselves with a firearm in their homes. Opponents have also said that requiring guns to be stored in a locked container or equipped with a trigger lock could delay their efforts to protect themselves and their families.

    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 expands that law so it applies whether or not 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 a child or prohibited adult 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 caused 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.

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