Gun bill step closer to becoming RI law

Where Cranston, Johnston, Warwick Reps stand on Safe Storage

Posted 3/28/24

Rhode Island is one step closer to enacting a safe storage law. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Pam Lauria, cleared the Rhode Island Senate 28-7 on Tuesday, March 19. It now heads to the House, …

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Gun bill step closer to becoming RI law

Where Cranston, Johnston, Warwick Reps stand on Safe Storage


Rhode Island is one step closer to enacting a safe storage law. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Pam Lauria, cleared the Rhode Island Senate 28-7 on Tuesday, March 19. It now heads to the House, where companion legislation is sponsored by state Rep. Justine Caldwell. To get an idea of this bill’s fate in the House, representatives who represent the communities of Cranston, Johnston and Warwick, where Beacon Communications publishes, were contacted to see how they would vote on this legislation during a floor vote.

A total of nine representatives represent a district or a part of a district in Cranston; Johnston has four and Warwick has seven, which includes House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi. Cranston’s delegation includes state Reps. Charlene Lima, Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, Brandon Potter, Jacquelyn Baginski, Arthur Handy, Joseph McNamara, David Bennett, Robert Quattrocchi and Edward Cardillo Jr.

Responses consisted of a mixture of answers ranging from some strongly supporting the bill to several who said they were undecided.

Speaker Shekarchi who will have a major role in the bill’s fate, didn’t provide specifics on his view of the bill, whether it would get a floor vote and how he would vote on it, but said, “We are in the process of reviewing the voluminous testimony on many gun-related bills heard earlier this month before the House Judiciary Committee. As always, the House will afford this significant issue a careful and deliberative review in the coming weeks.”

The representatives who have part of Cranston in their district, said they are a ‘yes’ vote on this bill are Potter, McNamara and Bennett.

“I support that bill and I’m happy to see the General Assembly continue to embrace common sense gun safety measures,” Potter said.

Potter also emphasized the need for an assault weapons ban, adding, “but it shouldn’t distract from the fact that we desperately and urgently need to stop the sale of assault weapons in Rhode Island.

McNamara, when explaining his support for the bill, cited how Connecticut has an identical law on the books, saying, “I have friends that live in Connecticut that are very strong second amendment supporters and gun owners, and it’s almost identical to Connecticut and they support it. They don’t find it over burdensome. I think it will make us safer.”

Baginski is currently undecided on the bill.

“I do think that reasonable measures to ensure gun safety are appropriate, but I haven’t made up my mind about this bill yet,” Baginski said. “I’m still considering all of the emails and phone calls I’m getting from my constituents. I’m not sure how I’ll vote on this one if it comes to the floor.”

 Lima has questions of bill

Lima is also under the ‘undecided’ column on this bill at the moment but added that she has a few concerns.

“One of them, it says ‘when not in use it, has to be stored,’ I don’t know what that means, when not in use, because when would you be using a gun in your house,” Lima asks.

Lima raised questioned if the bill would apply to someone who lives alone and doesn’t have children. Lima said that she has received emails from constituents at a ratio of “three to one” who do not want the bill to pass.

She said, “A lot of people who don’t have kids are saying, ‘Why do I have to lock them up?’ ‘How do I defend myself if someone breaks into my home when I’m home? You’re going to delay me getting my weapon to defend myself.’ So those are some of the questions I want to ask. There’s a type of gun where it’s fingerprinted to you only, so only you could use it. Somebody said that’s considered safely stored. Well is it? I don’t know – that’s an up-in-the-air question.”

Hany co-sponsor of the bill said, "I think anything that slows someone down at getting the firearm out is going to reduce the risk of suicide, primarily from the perspective of a child or someone other than the owner getting ahold of the gun."

On the concern of whether a gun owner could be restricted when defending themselves during a home invasion because of this bill, Handy said, "The idea here is not to create something that's super hard to get into, but it does protect it from others. I would actually say those folks are also partially protected from someone breaking in and taking their gun and using it against them."

"Nobody's bringing up massive numbers of stories of home invasions where someone wasn't able to get their firearm because [it] was stuck in a safe," added Handy. "I'm sure there's a story out there, but it is going to be an anecdote of very narrow proportions -- very narrow frequency."

At the time of publication, Cardillo Jr., Fenton-Fung and Quattrocchi did not respond to a request for comment.

Johnston delegation weighs in

Johnston’s delegation consists of Cardillo Jr. and state Reps. Gregory Costantino, Deborah Fellela, who is also listed as a cosponsor, and Ramon Perez.

Perez is currently undecided. He said he is “very pro-second amendment,” but wants to hear the arguments before deciding how he’s going to vote.

Costantino did not respond to inquiries regarding his stance on the bill and how he’d vote on it.

Fellela introduced similar legislation last session called “Dillon’s Law,” named after Dillon Viens, a 16-year-old Johnston resident who was killed in February 2022 after the discharge of a firearm in a home located on Cedar Street in Johnston. In that incident, police said the homeowner, Marios Kirios, who owned the gun was not home. A juvenile was also charged with manslaughter.

Fellela said that in the past she “kind of stayed neutral” on the topic of a safe storage law years ago, but Viens’ death changed her perspective.

She said, “That was a definite tragedy and it definitely shed light on my opinion of that legislation.”

Fellela responded to some of the concerns that have been raised about Caldwell’s bill by critics, such as what would happen in the event of a home invasion.

“I wish there was some kind of a carve-out for that,” she said. “I do see both sides to it. I think my main thing was that this gentleman wasn’t at home at all and he left those guns out, that seems like a red flag to me, that they should be locked.”

Fella also talked about conversations she has had about the bill with constituents who are pro-second amendment and the possibility of the aforementioned carve-out.

Favors amendment

“I’ve talked to a lot of gun owners because this community here is very pro-gun here,” Fellala said. “And some of them that I’ve talked to, they’re fine with the bill. They said that they keep their guns locked anyway, [and] that they don’t have an issue with that. So that’s a tough thing, that certain little tweak there that could be, maybe amended.”

As for if she would introduce that amendment, Fella said, “I probably wouldn’t, but I bet there will be some that would do that.” If the amendment were introduced, Fellela said, “I think I could support that amendment, yes, I think I would support that.”

The concern of a gun owner’s way to defend themselves if their house is being broken into is one of several concerns brought up by those who are pro-second amendment. Another criticism is enforcement, which was raised by Glenn Valentine, vice president of the Rhode Island Firearms Owners’ League.

“This, like most other legislation in [Rhode Island], will go unnoticed and only be an issue at the point of enforcement since folks in [Rhode Island] don’t sit at their computers and refresh their computer screens, catching what changes the Rhode Island General Assembly made to our general laws,” Valentine said. “We already have law in [Rhode Island] that addresses this issue of prohibited persons and unauthorized access to a firearm. Now we’ll have a law that severely limits the ability [of] a [homeowner] to access a firearm in a self-defense situation. What’s the harm in having an accessible firearm in a home without minors and prohibited persons?”

Where Warwick Reps stand

Warwick’s delegation includes McNamara, Bennett, Shekarchi, Patricia Morgan, Camille Vella-Wilkinson, Joseph Solomon Jr. and Evan Shanley. Shanley said he plans to support the bill. Solomon Jr. did not indicate as to how he views the bill or would vote, saying, “I’m in the process of reviewing the testimony and discussion from the committee meeting. Additionally, I will be speaking with my constituents throughout the process.”

Morgan said that she plans to vote against the bill.

“I live alone and have been threatened many times,” Morgan said. “I have guns for recreation (I shoot trap) and for protection. The sheer notion that law-abiding adults should be handicapped by having to unlock a storage container and load their firearm in a moment of urgency is not just dangerous, it is a complete and utter failure to grasp the basic principles of self-defense. It is the backward logic of misguided ideologues that suggest that government has the right to subject me and my family and other responsible citizens to be defenseless in the face of [life-threatening] home invasions.”

Vella-Wilkinson did not respond for comment.

If passed and signed into law, this legislation would require those who own firearms to store them safely when not being used. According to the bill text, a gun would need to be “secured in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety device.”

Firearm owners who don’t store their weapons, which is classified as a civil offense in this bill, would first be fined $250. A second offense is a $1,000 fine and any offenses after could

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