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It's time to update Rhode Island's Gun Laws

Before you reflexively retreat to your comfortable pro-Second Amendment or pro-gun control corner, consider the following: First, while Rhode Islanders can own other firearms, they are not permitted to own stun guns or tasers. Second, any Rhode Islander denied a license to carry a concealed firearm has no choice but to take their appeal all the way to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

In 2018, only three states had laws banning civilian possession of stun guns and tasers: New York, Hawaii, and Rhode Island. In 2019 that list shrunk to two states as a federal court struck down New York's ban. Once again, Rhode Island continues to lag behind other states.

Obtaining a license to carry a firearm remains as difficult as you would think it should be. Beyond the application and fee, it involves background checks, the careful inspection of a certified instructor, and numerous references. Even if a candidate is squeaky clean and can check off the required boxes, it remains very likely that a candidate will be denied. Once denied, the candidate's only recourse is to have their case heard at the Rhode Island Supreme Court — an intimidating and cost-prohibitive option for most Rhode Islanders. Further, having your case heard before the Rhode Island Supreme Court may bring an unwanted spotlight to the litigant. Many people may not want to disclose to their family members, colleagues, and employers that they applied for a concealed carry permit.

To remedy both of these deficiencies, I’ve introduced S-0176, a bill that would revise the definition of "firearms" to include stun guns and tasers. Not everyone who wants to protect themselves will feel comfortable possessing a traditional firearm. For such individuals, stun guns and tasers provide non-lethal protection. My bill also provides a "review and appeal" process for individuals denied a license to carry a concealed weapon. The Supreme Court should not be the first step in the appeals process, but the final stop.

During the last legislative session, I cautioned my colleagues in the state senate that lawsuits would follow if we failed to pass my bill and legalize the possession of electronic arms. Fast forward, and here we are in the midst of a suit that even gun control advocates admit will more than likely result in a court overturning the ban and costing the taxpayer in the process. Court cases like District of Columbia vs. Heller and Caetano vs. Massachusetts reassert that "the Second Amendment extends… to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding." Even a cursory glance at constitutional precedent on this subject is more than enough to see the need for Rhode Island to update its gun laws.

This year, there will no doubt be more talk of “common sense” gun legislation. My bill may not electrify either side of the gun issue, but it is a step in the right direction for updating Rhode Island’s gun laws.

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