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Rhode Island Gun Control Laws

In 2022, the Rhode Island General Assembly sent three new gun control laws to the desk of Governor Dan McKee. The laws signed by the Governor included:

  • A ban on large capacity feeding devices which can hold over 10 rounds of ammunition
  • A ban on open carry of loaded shotguns and rifles on public roadways
  • An increase in the minimum age to purchase firearms in the state from 18 to 21 years of age

Rhode Island firearm laws are more restrictive than several other states. Legislators seek to balance the public need to reduce gun violence with the rights of law-abiding gun owners. That's no easy task in a nation often divided over such matters.

Federal law only provides limited regulation of gun purchases and ownership. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is the federal agency that oversees federal firearms law. This includes the licensing of those involved in interstate commerce of firearms and enforcing prohibitions on possession and ownership. Federal law requires that firearm dealers with a federal license run background checks on gun purchases to prevent sales to felons and other prohibited persons. Along with the FBI, it investigates and prosecutes illegal possession of a firearm cases.

Still, most gun control laws appear at the state level. States address matters like concealed carry permits and the open carry of firearms. They may set waiting periods for the purchase or transfer of a gun. They pass laws regulating the possession or use of firearms in motor vehicles and public places. They can provide more restrictions on who can purchase and possess firearms.

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides:

A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Many viewed this amendment as protecting the rights of citizens to defend themselves against an invading army. In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the amendment more broadly, finding an individual's right to bear arms for self-defense. In New York Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen (2022), the Court provided a new test for government regulations that burden an individual's right to bear arms. It held that the government must show that a law or regulation is consistent with traditional, historical regulation of firearms in the United States. In Bruen, the Court overturned a gun licensing law that provided significant discretion to authorities to decide who qualified. As a result, the criteria for licenses must also be objective and tailored to the government's public safety goals. The Bruen case has led to more legal challenges of federal, state, and local gun regulations.

Rhode Island Gun Control Laws at a Glance

In Rhode Island, you need a safety certificate issued by the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to purchase a handgun. The DEM also manages the firearms safety course. The course includes at least two hours of instruction in the safe handling and use of pistols and revolvers. Completing the training course is necessary to receive the handgun safety certificate. Local police, other law enforcement, and active duty military are exempt.

Rhode Island gun laws also provide for the issuance of a license to carry a handgun in public. Licensing authority is split. You can apply to carry a concealed firearm (pistol or revolver) through local authorities such as your city or town. The regulatory format for issuing this license falls in accord with the "shall issue" directive from the Bruen case. This means that upon meeting objective criteria, officials will grant the license.

You can also apply for a license to carry a firearm (pistol or revolver) open or concealed from the office of the State Attorney General. The regulatory format here provides that the Attorney General may issue the permit upon proper showing of need. In any case, the illegal carrying of a firearm (pistol or revolver) without a license can result in a felony conviction, including up to 10 years in prison. Exceptions to the license law are provided for those who carry a handgun in their motor vehicle while holding a valid license from another state and only passing through Rhode Island without any intent to remain in the state. Law enforcement officers and active-duty military are exempt from the license requirement.

Rhode Island provides for universal background checks—all private sales and transfers of firearms require the seller to send the application form to the state police, local police department, or other proper law enforcement agency for a background check. There is a minimum seven-day waiting period before delivery of the firearm to the purchaser. The state also requires any court that commits a person to a mental institution to share that information with NICS, the national background check database operated through the FBI. Although Rhode Island does not have an assault weapons ban, it does ban certain firearms. A state preemption law prohibits local governments from passing firearm laws in conflict with the state.

The table below contains a summary of Rhode Island's gun control laws.

Relevant Statutes (Laws)

Illegal Arms

The following items are illegal in Rhode Island:

  • Sawed-off shotguns
  • Sawed-off rifles
  • Bump stocks
  • Mufflers
  • Silencers
  • Armor-piercing bullets
  • Machine guns (unless authorized by federal and state law)
  • Firearms with altered marks (obliterated serial number)
  • Ghost guns (undetectable or made by 3D printing)

Waiting Period

Rhode Island requires a seven-day waiting period between the application to purchase a firearm and delivery of the firearm to the purchaser.

Who May Not Own

In Rhode Island, it is illegal to own or possess a firearm if a person:

  • Has been convicted of a crime of violence
  • Is a fugitive from justice
  • Has entered a plea of "no contest" to, or been convicted of, a felony
  • Has entered a plea of "no contest" to, or been convicted of a felony domestic violence offense or a misdemeanor simple assault, cyberstalking, cyberharassment, violation of protective order offense, or certain disorderly conduct offenses
  • Is the subject of a protective order
  • Is in community confinement or is otherwise subject to electronic surveillance or monitoring devices as a condition of parole
  • Is under guardianship, treatment, or confinement as a mental incompetent
  • Is under treatment or confinement as a drug addict
  • Is an unnaturalized foreign-born person who is in the United States illegally
  • Is under 18 years of age (with certain exceptions)

License Required?

A license is not required to own a firearm. However, a safety certificate from the Department of Environmental Management is required to purchase a handgun.

Concealed Carry License Required?

A concealed carry license is required to carry a concealed handgun in Rhode Island.

Open Carry Allowed?

Open carry of a handgun is prohibited without a licensee, except at one's dwelling, place of business, or on land one possesses. Open carry of loaded shotguns or rifles is prohibited on public roads and trails or in vehicles on public roads, with exceptions for law enforcement, military, and those engaged in hunting activity.

Eligibility for a Concealed Carry License

To be eligible for a license to carry a handgun (pistol or revolver), a person must:

  • Be 21 years old
  • Have a bona fide residence or place of business within the city or town where the person is applying or a concealed carry license from another state
  • Demonstrate a proper showing of need (Attorney General license only)
  • Have a certification that they qualified with a pistol or revolver of a caliber equal to or larger than the one they intend to carry
  • Pass a background check conducted via state, local, and federal databases showing they are not prohibited from possessing a firearm

Machine Gun Laws

Rhode Island law generally prohibits the possession of machine guns.

Penalties for Illegal Firearm Possession

Rhode Island has extensive gun control laws, and the penalties for violations vary. Common offenses and punishments are:

  • Possession of a firearm by a prohibited person under Section 11-47-5 is a felony, punishable by two to 10 years in prison
  • Possession of a firearm by an alien, mental incompetent, or drug addict is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison; a $1,000 fine; or both
  • Carrying a gun without a license is a felony, punishable by one to 10 years in prison; a fine of up to $10,000; or both
  • Possessing a firearm while delivering or with intent to deliver or while manufacturing a controlled substance is a felony, punishable by two to 20 years in prison
  • Possessing a specified device that when added to a semi-automatic weapon allows full automatic fire is a felony, punishable by one to 10 years in prison; a fine of up to $10,000; or both
  • Anyone who manufactures, sells, transfers, purchases, or possesses a "ghost gun" (undetectable or with no serial number) commits a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison; a fine of up to $10,000; or both
  • Possessing a sawed-off shotgun or sawed-off rifle is a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison; a fine of up to $5,000; or both
  • Illegal possession of a machine gun is a felony, punishable by one to 10 years in prison; a fine of up to $10,000; or both

Penalties for Illegal Possession on or Near School Grounds

Possessing a firearm on school grounds is a felony, punishable by 1-5 years in prison; a fine of $500 to $5,000; or both

Red Flag Law?

Yes. Under Rhode Island law, a law enforcement officer can petition a court for an extreme risk protection order against a subject who presents a significant danger of causing imminent personal injury to himself or others by having access to firearms. If granted, the protection order can last for one year, and law enforcement can confiscate all firearms for that time.

Universal Background Checks?

Yes. Rhode Island requires a background check on all firearm purchases and transfers.

Stand Your Ground Law?

No. The law provides a duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense unless you are in your home.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the status of the state law(s) you are reviewing.

Research the Law

Learn More About Rhode Island Gun Control Laws

Are you facing a criminal charge for illegal gun possession? Do you have questions about your eligibility to own a gun in Rhode Island? An attorney licensed in Rhode Island can answer these questions and more.

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