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State of Rhode Island General Assembly
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Bill signed to raise age for gun, ammunition sales to 21
STATE HOUSE – A month after the horrific mass murder of 19 schoolchildren and two teachers at a Texas elementary school by an 18-year-old gunman, the governor has signed legislation passed by the General Assembly to raise the legal age to purchase firearms or ammunition in Rhode Island from 18 to 21. The bill was sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin and Rep. Teresa Tanzi.
“People under the age of 21 are already prohibited from buying handguns in Rhode Island, but an 18-year-old — someone who might even still be in high school — can buy rifles and shotguns, including the powerful weapons that are often used in mass shootings. It is well-settled science that teenage and post-teenage brains are still developing. It’s common sense that we shouldn’t be selling lethal weapons to people who we’ve decided are not old enough to buy cigarettes or beer,” said Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence).
Since 2018, six of the nine deadliest mass shootings were carried out by people age 21 or younger.
Said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett), “When our existing law prohibiting people under 21 from buying handguns was enacted in 1959, AR-15s were weapons that even the military didn’t have. No one envisioned that 63 years later, there would be millions of these high-velocity, extraordinarily lethal weapons in the hands of civilians. Certainly no one ever imagined that a teenager would go out and legally buy two of them on his 18
birthday along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, then use them to massacre 19 innocent children and two teachers at school. It’s not 1959. In 2022, we need laws that recognize the incredible killing capacity of modern weapons, and the serious gun violence epidemic we have in this nation. We need to put an end to the years of political inaction that is enabling mass shootings. I’m proud that today in Rhode Island, we are moving in the right direction.”
Current state law bans the sale or possession of handguns to people under 21, but allows them to buy and possess rifles and shotguns. This legislation (
) will make it illegal to sell any firearm or ammunition to anyone under 21, with violations punishable by up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines. The bill contains exceptions for police, state marshals or correctional officers and active duty military or National Guard members.
The bill was one of three bills to strengthen gun safety laws that Governor Dan McKee signed into law today, joined by bill sponsors Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick), Senate Majority Whip Goodwin, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence), Rep. Justine A. Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich), Representative Tanzi and Rep. Leonela Felix (D-Dist. 61, Pawtucket); as well as Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos and Shannon Watts – the Founder of Moms Demand Action, and Rhode Island advocates who have worked tirelessly to get these bills over the finish line.
Rhode Island is one of just a few states to quickly take action on critical gun safety legislation intended to reduce and prevent gun violence in the aftermath of the tragic mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas, last month.
“Here in Rhode Island, we’re taking meaningful action to address the scourge of gun violence and keep our residents safe,” said Governor McKee. “As governor, I am proud to sign a legislative package that will ban high-capacity magazines, raise the legal age to purchase firearms to 21 and prohibit the open carry of a rifle or shotgun in public – these measures can help saves lives. My deepest thanks go out to the legislative sponsors and the thousands of advocates who stepped up and got the work done.”
The sponsors said that, while they understand that no law alone is going to stop mass shootings and other gun violence, they believe it’s important to reduce access to powerful weapons by teenagers and young people, and to stand up for gun safety reform, which is supported by the majority of Americans.
“Today’s bill signing is living proof of way advocacy matters. As a mom, I am grateful to all the moms and their allies whose tireless efforts to address gun violence made the passage of the critical, common-sense gun reforms possible. Thank you to the House, Senate, and governor for working to swiftly and decisively enact these public safety protections into law, Additionally, thanks to Attorney General Peter Neronha for spearheading this effort from the executive branch. Today we make Rhode Island a safer place to live. And while there is still work to be done in addressing gun violence in our state and country, at least tonight I can talk with my kids about why civic engagement matters,” said Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea,
“Common-sense gun control measures are necessary to save lives and help prevent mass shootings from occurring in Rhode Island,” said General Treasurer Seth Magaziner. “I am proud to have worked with advocates around the state for years to support these and other measures and thankful to the members of the General Assembly for passing these laws to protect Rhode Island’s communities from the devastating epidemic of gun violence.”
“I am proud of our state leaders and advocacy community for demanding and accomplishing meaningful action to help mitigate the plague of gun violence,” said Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos. “The only way we can prevent another tragedy is through bold policies that prioritize lives and public safety. I want to thank all of the bill sponsors, the Senate president, the speaker, and governor for their steadfast commitment to passing and signing comprehensive gun safety legislation this year.”
The Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association (RIPCA) supports all efforts to save lives from gun violence, and the signing of these three bills will enhance existing gun laws in a manner that properly balances individual constitutional rights and public safety,” said Narragansett Police Chief Sean Corrigan, president of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association.
“Following the horrific mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, in addition to the countless communities torn apart by gun violence, Rhode Island lawmakers have taken decisive action that will save lives,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “Our grassroots army of volunteers have fought for years to help make this progress possible. We’re so grateful for the leadership of Governor McKee, Speaker Shekarchi, Senate President Ruggerio, Attorney General Neronha and all the gun sense champions in the Rhode Island legislature for passing these lifesaving laws.”
“It has taken 10 years of hard work and collaboration to build the support needed for these three lifesaving bills to pass. Together, with dozens of campaign partners, thousands of advocates, the majority of the General Assembly and all of our general officers, we have committed to creating policy that saves lives and protects our families, children and communities from further gun violence. Collectively, we have unprecedented power and momentum to continue to strengthen Rhode Island’s gun violence prevention laws. To anything less is not an option,” said Sydney Montstream-Quas, Board Chair, RI Coalition Against Gun Violence.
For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
Lt. Governor's Office
Secretary of State
Link to Public Records Request