If “Safe Storage” bill for firearms becomes law, we may see personal safety workarounds – Jeff Gross

Gun Rights

by Jeff Gross, contributing writer

Photo: Author

46 to 24. That was the final result of the “forced” “Safe Storage” bill for firearms when taken up for a vote on the floor of the RI House of Representatives as they approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Justine Caldwell and Sen. Pamela J. Lauria to “require safe storage of firearms in Rhode Island”.

For years gun rights advocates and 2nd Amendment proponents successfully fought off restrictions that while are good intentioned, will also irreparably harm one’s ability to quickly defend one’s life and that of one’s family. Having a firearm securely locked away will not do much against an attacker breaking through the door or window.

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For those who have firearms in their home for sport, and/or hunting it may not be more than they are already doing.

Worthless

The staunchest gun rights advocate elected at the RI State House, perhaps, is the House Minority Leader, Rep. Michael Chippendale. Chippendale put it clearly: the new law “renders private firearm ownership for self-defense and defense of your loved ones in your home absolutely worthless.”

Albeit most supporters are on the Republican side of the aisle, but Democratic Rep. Camille Vella-Wilkinson recalls the frightening time she dissuaded an intruder by “locking and loading” loudly behind her front door, and the assailant left.

But! There’s a loophole – or a workaround – which allows a firearm in one’s home “being carried … or can be readily carried by a lawfully authorized user” – or at arm’s length away. See photo at top.

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Letter to the Editor from Rep. Chippendale:

The so-called “Safe Storage” bill passed in the House is anything but “safe,” unless of course, you are the criminal breaking into someone’s private residence.  People choose to own firearms to defend themselves and their families while inside the sanctity of their homes – their “castles”, as an exercise of their constitutionally protected right to do so. We aren’t talking about walking around in public with a firearm – or going into schools or public buildings, we are talking about our homes. 

The absurd level that this legislation goes to in order to render firearms useless and inaccessible to their rightful owners is not being done for reasons of “safety” as the proponents claim – it is being done by a group of radical, well-funded individuals and their willing accomplices in the legislature who have no understanding of, nor respect for our rights to defend ourselves with a firearm. Quite simply, they loathe the very idea of firearms and want them completely outlawed.

Under the strict adherence to this law, an individual whose home is violently invaded by criminals with the intent to do them harm will be defenseless. Even the most modern safes and lockboxes require very specific steps to access the contents. The time it would take a victim of a home invasion to first recognize that they are indeed being invaded, to navigate to the location of the safe, to access the safe whether by key (if they have it), or key code (if they punch the numbers in the right sequence under the pressure of a live-or-die situation), or fingerprint access (which doesn’t always work), then remove and load the firearm far exceeds the time it would take for a violent criminal to kick in a door, and rush the homeowner. It is a sequence of events that is clearly safer for the criminal than the homeowner.

While the extremely well-funded and well-organized groups pushing these dangerous laws have become quite adept at framing their initiatives as “safety” oriented – they are literally the opposite. Their continued erosion of our 2nd Amendment rights is very intentional, and their own legislative history makes that clear.

For one to fully recognize the folly in this so-called “Safe Storage” bill – one needs only to read the actual language of the bill. It is peddled as a tool to prevent “children” and “prohibited persons (criminals)” from getting access to firearms. However – within the bill itself – it states that if a child or prohibited person does access a firearm and uses it to defend themselves or others, the owner of the firearm is exempt from the punishment. That is a black and white admission that the need to use a firearm to defend yourself or others within the home is a real need, and it nullified everyone of their arguments supporting this ill-conceived initiative.

Respectfully, Rep. Mike Chippendale

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Sponsors of the Safe Storage bill

Sponsored by Rep. Caldwell and Sen. Lauria, statements on the bill’s passage:

“Requiring that all firearms be stored safely is a huge step forward for the safety of Rhode Islanders of all ages, one that has been a goal for many years among those of us who work to protect against gun violence. Leaving a lethal weapon where anyone else can use it is an invitation to tragedy. Ensuring that all weapons are stored in a way that keeps them out of the hands that shouldn’t touch them protects not only the public in general, but gun owners and their families in particular. I am proud that Rhode Island is joining the ranks of states that recognize that responsible gun ownership must include secure storage,” said Representative Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich). 

Said Senator Lauria (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence) “Nationwide, firearms are the number one killer of children. No one can call themselves a responsible gun owner if they are leaving a gun where someone else can use it. Unsecured guns have harmed countless children as well as family members or friends who have accessed them for the purpose of suicide or crime. When a gun isn’t under the owner’s control, it’s not safe anywhere unless it’s secured. Responsible gun owners already do this, but it should be a requirement, not an option. I would like to thank Senate leadership and my colleagues for their support of this important legislation.”

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. 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 also expands that law so it applies regardless of whether 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 such a person 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 were to cause 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.

According to Sandy Hook Promise, three out of four children with guns at home know the location of their parent’s gun in the home. One-third of these children admitted to handling the gun unsupervised. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, there were at least 2,070 unintentional shootings by children under 18 years old between Jan. 1, 2015, and Dec. 31, 2020.

The legislation is supported by all five of the state’s general officers. And, in a partisan group, the House bill is cosponsored by Rep. Jason Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren), Rep. Deborah Fellela (D-Dist. 43, Johnston), Rep. José Batista (D-Dist. 12, Providence), Rep. Jennifer Boylan (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence), Majority Whip Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence, Pawtucket), Rep. Kathleen A. Fogarty (D-Dist. 35, South Kingstown), Rep. Jennifer A. Stewart (D-Dist. 59, Pawtucket), Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett), and Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston).

The Senate bill is cosponsored by Senate Majority Leader Pearson (D-Dist. 19, Cumberland, Lincoln), Majority Whip Valarie J. Lawson (D-Dist. 14, East Providence), President Pro Tempore Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick), Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown), and Senators Alana M. DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown, New Shoreham), Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), Walter S. Felag, Jr. (D-Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton), Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton) and Sandra Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket). 

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“Safe Storage” Information to be distributed at schools for children/parents

The bill also requires schools to distribute information about gun safety. The last lines of the House version read: “the department of health and department of education shall annually develop detailed
information for students and their families, parents and guardians regarding the importance of secure gun storage to protect minors from accessing firearms, the risks of access to firearms, secure firearm storage requirements under state law, and suicide prevention and other behavioral health resources. School districts shall annually distribute a pamphlet containing this information, in English and in Spanish, to all enrolled students and their parents or guardians and make this information electronically accessible on the district’s webpage.”

Next steps?

The Senate and House bills need to be matched and adjusted. Then? Will the Governor sign a partisan bill so poorly written, conceived with good intentions, but forcing workarounds for those most concerned with their safety and that of their family. He says he will. Stay tuned. Might be time to press pause and work on more “unintended consequence” wording. Or, staunch gun advocates may be forced to cut their grass, prepare dinner, and watch television wearing their gun to comply.

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The House and Senate bills

Senate Version speaking to exception to locking up firearms:

https://webserver.rilegislature.gov/BillText/BillText24/SenateText24/S2202.pdf

House Version:

https://webserver.rilegislature.gov/billtext24/housetext24/h7373A.pdf

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Jeffrey “Jeff” Gross spent 21 years as an Analytical Chemist at the USCG R&D Center in Groton, Connecticut, Woods Hole Laboratories, and Helix Technologies. Changing careers is a “great learning experience for everyone”, Jeff says, and I’m an avid outdoorsman and conservationist, a student of the sciences, and the world. The US holds too many wonders not to take a chance and explore them”.

Jeff is the Model Train and Railroad entrepreneur. Proud Golden Retriever owner. Ultra strong Second Amendment Advocate and Constitutionalist. “Determined seeker of the truth”.  Jeff is a RIFGPA Legislative and Legal Officer, Freshwater Chairman, NRA Liaison.

His subjects include Outdoors, Second Amendment, Model Railroading, Commentary, and Whimsical. He can be reached at: [email protected].

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