General Assembly passes ‘straw purchases’ legislation
Bill cracks down on providing guns for those prohibited from having them
STATE HOUSE – The General Assembly today approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Joshua Miller and Rep. Jason Knight to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals by specifically prohibiting “straw purchases” of firearms. The bill now goes to the governor.
This legislation (2021-H 5386aa, 2021-S 416aa) prohibits the purchase of a firearm on behalf of, or selling or transferring a firearm to someone is legally prohibited from possessing one.
“All sides of the gun debate should be able to agree that we do not want firearms in the hands of individuals who pose a danger to themselves or others. That’s what this bill is all about. Our background check system is intended to ensure that it is, indeed, law abiding citizens who are purchasing firearms. But that system – intended to protect all of us – is thwarted when a so-called ‘straw man’ makes the purchase for disqualified individuals,” said Senator Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), who serves as chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “While straw purchasing is a federal crime, it is infrequently charged. Putting the crime in state statute enables the attorney general to bring state charges in state courts, and it strengthens the penalties for purchasing a firearm using false information. The bill will clamp down on efforts to subvert our gun laws.”
Said Representative Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren), “Straw purchases are a pipeline through which dangerous criminals get the weapons they want to carry out more violence. While we prohibit certain people from owning guns, Rhode Island’s current laws do not sufficiently bar or penalize those who help them subvert the law by buying guns for them. This bill is about keeping guns out of the hands of people who have already shown themselves unfit for gun ownership, reducing gun violence and protecting the lives and safety of Rhode Islanders.”
In addition to providing a state statute under which a person can be charged for knowingly providing a firearm to a person legally prohibiting from possessing one, the bill stiffens penalties for providing false information on a firearms purchase application or license a permit to carry it – including carrying out a straw purchase. A first offense would carry a penalty up to 5 years in prison and up to $5,000 fine. Penalties for second and subsequent offenses would be up to 10 years in prison and up to $10,000 fine.
The bill also amends the purchase applications to include the number of firearms to be purchased, which can help law enforcement agencies identify potential efforts to transfer guns to others illegally.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, straw purchasers are a top driver of gun crimes in Rhode Island. In February, Rashaan Mangum of Providence was indicted after he was alleged to have bought 89 handguns from firearms dealers throughout Rhode Island using false information and then sold them to prohibited individuals and without proper paperwork.
The legislation is supported by all the state’s general officers, and was introduced on Attorney General Peter F. Neronha’s behalf.
“Gun violence is a real problem across the country, and Rhode Island is no exception. The number of illegal gun charges brought under existing law by my Office every year number in the hundreds – and every defendant in every one of those cases is treated as the public safety threat he or she obviously is. And yet, there are gaps in existing law that continue to expose Rhode Islanders to additional danger. Far too many rounds are being fired at victims. Far too many guns are being purchased by straw buyers on behalf of those who cannot legally possess them because they pose a public safety threat. This bill will reduce violence and make our state safer for all Rhode Islanders,” said Attorney General Neronha. “It is a substantial step forward, no doubt. There remains work to be done, and we remain committed to that work. I am grateful to Senate President Ruggerio and House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi, Senator Miller and Representative Knight, the Rhode Island Senate and House of Representatives, and the tireless advocates for working so hard to bring this bill to consideration and passage.”
For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903