Bill signed into law to keep guns out of hands of felony domestic abusers
STATE HOUSE – After winning unanimous approval in the General Assembly, legislation sponsored by Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne and Rep. Gregg Amore to take firearms out of the hands of perpetrators of domestic violence has been signed into law.
The legislation (2016-S 2492A, 2016-H 7283A), signed by Gov. Gina M. Raimondo yesterday, requires the surrender of firearms within 24 hours by anyone who is either convicted of a felony charge of domestic violence, or pleads nolo contendere.
Federal law already prohibits those convicted of domestic violence, not just felonies but also misdemeanors, from owning guns. But that law has no mechanism that compels them to actually turn them in or to check to see if they own any.
Senator Coyne’s and Representative Amore’s legislation improves upon that law by requiring courts to issue an order that guns be surrendered to either a law enforcement agency or a federally licensed firearms dealer by anyone convicted of felony domestic assault, within 24 hours of conviction or plea. The defendant would have 48 hours to return to the court his or her proof of surrender issued by the law enforcement agency or firearms dealer, or to attest that at the time of conviction, he or she did not own any firearms.
“Domestic abusers should not be armed. They do not cease being a threat to their victim once they are convicted or have served their prison sentence. Too many people, usually women, have died at the hands of a partner or family member who has a history of abusing them, and many live in fear for the rest of their lives, knowing that the person who abused them owns a gun,” said Senator Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence), who is a retired Rhode Island State Police lieutenant. “This legislation is progress toward protecting victims and preventing the loss of innocent lives at the hands of armed abusers.”
Said Representative Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence), “I understand the concerns of those who think that any attempt to restrict firearm ownership is a potential slippery slope. But those who have been convicted of felony domestic abuse have already demonstrated that they are a very serious threat to their victim. There have been far too many people who have endured domestic abuse, often for years, who are eventually killed by their abusers, most often with guns. Having a gun available drastically increases the likelihood that a domestic abuse victim is going to be murdered. While it’s true that taking guns out of the picture will not prevent all such deaths, to allow domestic abusers to keep guns is to show reckless disregard for the safety of those they have abused. This legislation will help save lives.”
In a recent study of a decade of domestic violence homicides in Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence reported that firearms were the leading weapon used in domestic violence murders. Among murders of intimate partners (including bystanders killed at the same time) firearms accounted for 42 percent of the murder weapons during the time studied.
Under the new law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, firearms surrendered to gun dealers could be sold by the dealer to a person designated by the person subject to the surrender order, but that person must not live in the abuser’s household and would be prohibited from returning the gun to the abuser’s possession. The abuser could receive payment for any sale after the surrender.
The law asks the Police Officer’s Commission on Standards and Training to establish policies for what law enforcement agencies should do with firearms surrendered to them under this bill. It stipulates that the person who surrenders the gun is to be notified when it is disposed of by the department, and that he or she should receive any financial value derived from its disposal.
The measure was cosponsored by Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence), President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown), Sen. William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket) and Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence), Rep. John J. Lombardi (D-Dist. 8, Providence), Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence), and Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence).
For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903