PROVIDENCE, RI – Governor Dan McKee, joined by Lt. Governor Sabina Matos, Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea, Attorney General Peter F. Neronha, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, Majority Whip Katherine S. Kazarian, Sen. Joshua Miller, and Rep. Jason Knight today signed into law two pieces of gun safety legislation.
"We must do everything we can to end gun violence and make our communities safer," said Governor Dan McKee. "These pieces of legislation will make a difference by keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous criminals, and keeping firearms off school property. I thank our general officers, legislators and gun safety advocates who have taken these important steps to ensure all Rhode Islanders can feel safe in their communities and their schools."
"As public officials, our top priority is to ensure that all Rhode Islanders are safe and can live without fear of falling victim to gun violence," said Lt. Governor Sabina Matos. "I want to thank Governor McKee, Attorney General Neronha, the members of the General Assembly and my colleagues in government for their continued leadership and advocacy on this important issue."
"Rhode Island is a safer place today than it was yesterday because of these bills. Safety measures don't get any more common-sense than keeping guns out of schools and out of the hands of people who aren't allowed to possess a gun," said Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea. "Thank you to Attorney General Peter Neronha for introducing these important pieces of legislation, to the sponsors in the House and Senate, and all of the advocates who made this possible."
"Gun violence is having devastating effects in Rhode Island and across the country. My Office aggressively prosecutes hundreds of gun crimes every year, and yet plainly there is more we can and must do," said Attorney General Peter F. Neronha. "Preventing straw purchases of firearms – the purchase of a firearm by someone who can legally possess a gun for someone who for good reason legally cannot – and limiting firearms on school grounds to those charged with public safety are common-sense steps that will lower the risk of gun violence for all Rhode Islanders. I applaud the work of Senate President Ruggerio and House Speaker Shekarchi, Senator Miller, Representative Kazarian, Representative Knight, the General Assembly, my fellow general officers, and advocates for their work in passing these important pieces of legislation."
"As a former public school teacher, I know firsthand the importance of protecting children from the horror of gun violence. I have advocated for years for this legislation to keep guns out of schools and to make it easier to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals who should not have them," said General Treasurer Seth Magaziner. "Today, thanks to the bravery and leadership of countless advocates and victims of gun violence, we are one step closer to a safer state for all Rhode Island children."
The first bills (2021-H 5386aa, 2021-S 416aa) ban "straw purchases" of firearms, making it illegal to purchase a firearm on behalf of, or selling or transferring it to, someone who is legally prohibited from possessing one. They also strengthen penalties for providing false information on a firearms purchase application or license to carry it.
"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 law 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 Sen. Joshua 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 law will clamp down on efforts to subvert our other gun laws."
"Straw purchases are a pipeline through which dangerous criminals get the weapons they want to carry out more violence," said Rep. Jason Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren). "While we prohibit certain people from owning guns, until now Rhode Island's laws have not sufficiently barred or penalized those who help them subvert the law by buying guns for them. This new law 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."
The Harold M. Metts School Safety Act of 2021 (2021-S 0073, 2021-H 5555A) prohibits anyone from carrying a firearm on school property, with the exception of peace officers, retired law enforcement officers, persons under contract to provide school security services, and unloaded firearms in locked containers or a locked rack in a motor vehicle.
"Guns do not belong in schools, and private citizens have no business bringing a gun on school property," said Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence). "Carrying firearms in schools increases risk, not safety. There have been dozens of examples of mishandling and accidental discharge of firearms in schools across our nation. We are working hard to improve education in our state. The presence of firearms in schools is detrimental to a positive learning environment."
Former Senator Harold Metts championed the school safety legislation in the Senate. It applies to any private or public elementary or secondary school property, including school buses.
"I am profoundly honored to have my name on this law, but more importantly, I'm very glad that Rhode Island is joining the vast majority of states that recognize that guns absolutely do not belong in schools. Our children and teachers will be safer and will feel more secure in school as a result of this law, and I am proud to have played a part in getting it on our books in Rhode Island," said former Senator Harold M. Metts. "The state motto, 'Hope,' was present in the enactment of this law. Even at a time when politics are so polarized, Rhode Island was able to craft and pass common-sense legislation that benefits us all, and this spirit must continue."
"Our nation has suffered so many horrific and tragic school shootings. Every parent deserves an assurance that no one is allowed to enter their child's school armed. Guns simply have no place in schools, and we shouldn't accept a situation that allows anyone outside the police to carry them there," said House Majority Whip Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence). "This legislation gives schools the same protections already afforded to the Rhode Island Convention Center, our post offices as well as our very own State House."