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Línea Nacional para la Violencia Doméstica: 1-800-799-7233 o (TTY) 1-800-787-3224

Conozca la Ley: Rhode Island

ACTUALIZADA 26 de mayo, 2017

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Below is information about state gun laws in Rhode Island.  However, in addition to these state-specific laws, there are also federal gun laws that could apply.  To fully understand all of the legal protections available, it is important that you also read the Federal Gun Laws pages.

WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you get in touch with a domestic violence advocate or lawyer in your community for more information on gun laws in your area. To find an agency, please go to the RI Where to Find Help page. 

Basic Info

arribaWhat is the difference between federal and state gun laws?

In these gun laws pages, we refer to both "federal gun laws" and "state gun laws."  The major difference between the two has to do with who makes the law, who prosecutes someone who violates the law, and what the penalty is for breaking the law.

One reason why it is important for you to know that there are these two sets of gun laws is so that you can understand all of the possible ways that the abuser might be breaking the law, and you can better protect yourself.  Throughout this section, we will be referring mostly to state laws.  Be sure to also read our Federal Gun Laws pages to see if any federal laws apply to your situation as well.  You will need to read both state and federal laws to see which ones, if any, the abuser might be violating.

If you are calling the police because you believe the abuser has violated a gun law, you do not necessarily need to be able to tell the police which law was violated (state versus federal) but local police cannot arrest someone for violating federal law, only for violating state/local laws.  Only federal law enforcement, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (“ATF”), can arrest someone for violating federal laws. If the local police believe that a state law is being violated, they could arrest the abuser and hand the case over to the state prosecutor.  If the local police believe a federal law is being violated, hopefully, the police department will notify the ATF or perhaps the U.S. Attorney’s office in your state (which is the federal prosecutor).  For information on how you can contact ATF directly to report the violation of federal gun laws, go to Who do I notify if I think the abuser should not have a gun?  If the abuser is breaking both state and federal laws, s/he might be prosecuted in both state and federal court.

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arribaWhat is the definition of a felony?

Throughout these gun law pages, we will refer to gun laws that make it illegal for someone convicted of a felony to have a gun.  A felony is a more serious crime than a misdemeanor.  It is defined under Rhode Island law as a crime that can be punished by imprisonment of more than one year, or by a fine of more than $1,000.*  However, you cannot always tell if someone was convicted of a felony only by looking at the amount of time s/he actually served in prison since sentences are often reduced or pled down.  If you are unsure if the abuser was convicted of a felony, you might want to talk to the prosecutor who handled the criminal case against the abuser to find out or go to the local criminal courthouse and try to search the records.   

 * RI Gen Laws § 11-1-2

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arribaI am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?

Rhode Island state law says that a person cannot have or buy a gun if s/he:

  • has been convicted of a "crime of violence" in Rhode Island or elsewhere.* "Crimes of violence" include any of the following crimes or an attempt to commit any of them:
    • murder;
    • manslaughter;
    • rape;
    • first or second degree sexual assault; 
    • first or second degree child molestation;
    • kidnapping; 
    • first or second degree arson; 
    • mayhem; 
    • robbery; 
    • burglary;
    • breaking and entering; 
    • any felony violation involving the illegal manufacture, sale, or delivery of a controlled substance; possession with intent to manufacture, sell, or deliver a controlled substance; or conspiracy to commit manufacture, sell, or deliver a controlled substance; 
    • assault with a dangerous weapon; 
    • assault or battery involving grave bodily injury;
    • assault with intent to commit any offense punishable as a felony;
    • conviction of a domestic violence offense punishable as a felony;*1 however, in this case, s/he cannot have a gun for a period of two years after the domestic violence conviction;*2   
  • was convicted of or pled no contest ("nolo contendere") to any felony crime against a family or household member that is listed here;*3
  • is in "community confinement" or otherwise subject to electronic surveillance or monitoring devices as a condition of parole;*4
  • is a fugitive from justice;*
  • is under guardianship, treatment, or confinement due to being mentally incompetent; 
  • has been adjudicated, is under treatment, or is under confinement as a drug addict;*5 
  • is under 21 years old;*6 or
  • is in the U.S. illegally (an "alien").*7

If any of these situations apply to the abuser, it may be illegal for him/her to have a gun.  Also, federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict an abuser's right to have a gun if you have a restraining order against him/her that meets certain requirements or if s/he has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor.  Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.

* RI Gen. Laws § 11-47-5(a)
*1 RI Gen. Laws § 11-47-2(2)
*2 RI Gen. Laws § 11-47-5(b)
*3 RI Gen. Laws § 11-47-5.3(a)
*4 RI Gen. Laws § 11-47-5(c)
*5 RI Gen. Laws § 11-47-6
*6 RI Gen. Laws § 11-47-11
*7 RI Gen. Laws § 11-47-7(a)

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Guns and Restraining Orders

arribaI have a temporary restraining order against the abuser. Can his/her gun be taken away?

Maybe, but not likely.  Rhode Island law does not prohibit an abuser who has a temporary restraining order against him/her from possessing a firearm.  However, you may be able to request in your temporary restraining order petition that the judge prohibit the abuser from possessing a gun while the order is in effect just in case the judge is willing to include this.  It may be helpful if you list the known firearms that s/he has (or the possible access to firearms) and specifically request in your paperwork that the abuser be prohibited from possessing firearms while your temporary order is in effect.  

Federal law may also prohibit the abuser from having a firearm while a temporary order is in effect.  If the judge gave you an ex parte temporary restraining order (which means that no advance notice was given to the abuser), which is commonly done, it could still be legal for him/her to have a gun under federal law.  However, if the judge scheduled a court hearing and gave notice of the hearing to the abuser before giving you the temporary restraining order, it is possible that it is illegal for him/her to have a gun under federal law.  The restraining order must also meet certain other requirements, though.  Read I have a final order of protection against the abuser. Can his/her gun be taken away? (in our Federal Gun Laws section) to find out more.

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arribaIs there anything I can do to make it more likely that the abuser's gun is taken away when I get a restraining order?

Here are a few things that may help:

  • If the abuser has a gun, tell the judge how many guns s/he has, and if s/he has ever threatened you with a gun;
  • Ask the judge to specifically write in your restraining order that the abuser cannot own, buy or have a gun while the order is in effect; and
  • Before leaving the courthouse, check to make sure that the gun restriction is written on your order.

It also may be helpful if the judge explains what will happen to the abuser's guns, who will take them, and where they will be held once you leave the courthouse.  If the judge agrees to add language that the abuser cannot keep his/her guns while the restraining order is in effect, you may also want to ask that the judge:

  • Require the abuser to give his/her guns to the police, or require the police to go to the abuser's house and get them;
  • Make it clear to both you and the abuser how long the guns will be kept away from the abuser; and
  • Order that the police notify you when the guns are returned to the abuser.

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arribaI have a restraining order against the abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun?

Under Rhode Island state law, as part of a final restraining order (after notice to the defendant and a hearing), the judge can order that the abuser hand over any firearms in his/her possession to the authorities and forbid him/her from buying or possessing firearms.  One exception to this, however, is if the abuser is a law officer, active member of the military, or in any other position where s/he is required by law or departmental policy to carry departmental firearms while on duty.  For these defendants, they can have a firearm only during the course of their employment but at all other times, it must be stored at the place of employment.*

In addition, federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict an abuser's right to have a gun if you have a restraining order against him/her that meets certain requirements even if the judge does not specifically include on the order that s/he cannot have a gun.  Go to the Federal Gun Laws page to get more information.

If you are afraid for your safety, talk to your local domestic violence program about your options.  Go to the RI State and Local Programs to find a program in your area.

* RI Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-3(a),(f),(h); 15-15-3(a),(f)

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Guns and Criminal Convictions

arribaIf the abuser has been convicted of a crime, can s/he keep or buy a gun?

Rhode Island state law says that a person cannot have or buy a gun if s/he:

  • has been convicted of a "crime of violence" in Rhode Island or elsewhere.* "Crimes of violence" include any of the following crimes or an attempt to commit any of them:
    • murder;
    • manslaughter;
    • rape;
    • first or second degree sexual assault; 
    • first or second degree child molestation;
    • kidnapping; 
    • first or second degree arson; 
    • mayhem; 
    • robbery; 
    • burglary;
    • breaking and entering; 
    • any felony violation involving the illegal manufacture, sale, or delivery of a controlled substance; possession with intent to manufacture, sell, or deliver a controlled substance; or conspiracy to commit manufacture, sell, or deliver a controlled substance; 
    • assault with a dangerous weapon; 
    • assault or battery involving grave bodily injury;
    • assault with intent to commit any offense punishable as a felony;
    • conviction of a domestic violence offense punishable as a felony;*1 however, in this case, s/he cannot have a gun for a period of two years after the domestic violence conviction;*2   
  • was convicted of or pled no contest ("nolo contendere") to any felony crime against a family or household member that is listed here; (Note: In this case, the judge will issue an order demanding that s/he surrender all firearms within 24 hours to a law-enforcement agency or to a federally-licensed firearms dealer and file proof of such surrender within 48 hours);*3
  • is in "community confinement" or otherwise subject to electronic surveillance or monitoring devices as a condition of parole;*4 or
  • is a fugitive from justice.*

Federal laws, which apply to all states, also restrict a person's right to have a gun if s/he has been convicted of certain crimes.  Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.

* RI Gen. Laws § 11-47-5(a)
*1 RI Gen. Laws § 11-47-2(2)
*2 RI Gen. Laws § 11-47-5(b)
*3 RI Gen. Laws § 11-47-5.3(a)(1),(3)
*4 RI Gen. Laws § 11-47-5(c)

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arribaHow can I find out if the abuser has been convicted of a crime?

Misdemeanor and felony records are open to the public, but they are not always easy to access.  If you know the exact courthouse where the abuser may have been convicted, you can go to the courthouse and ask the clerk of court for access to those records.

Federal law specifically prohibits possession of a firearm if the person is convicted of any felony or of a domestic violence misdemeanor. Criminal records that would make a person ineligible to purchase a firearm are also kept in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  However, no one other than law enforcement officials and licensed firearm sellers are allowed to search the NICS.  Your local police department may be willing to search NICS for you if you ask, but they are not required to do so.

To read more about the NICS, please see the question What will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?

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The Abuser Isn’t Supposed to Have a Gun…Now What?

arribaIf the abuser's gun is taken away as part of my restraining order, what will happen to it?

If the abuser is ordered to surrender his/her firearms as part of your restraining order, the judge will order him/her to surrender the possession of the firearm(s) to:

  • someone who is not related to the defendant by blood, marriage, and is not an intimate partner* (and this person is prohibited by law from returning the firearms to the abuser at any point while the restraining order is still valid);**   
  • the Rhode Island state police or local police department; or
  • a licensed gun dealer.*  

If the abuser is present at the restraining order hearing, s/he must surrender of the firearms within twenty-four hours of the judge issuing the order.  If the abuser is not present at the hearing, s/he has forty-eight hours after being served with the order to surrender the firearms.   If the abuser chooses to surrender the firearms to someone s/he knows or to a licensed gun dealer, s/he has to file a receipt with the court within 72 hours, showing that firearms were surrendered.*  

* RI Gen Laws §§ 8-8.1-3(d); 15-15-3(d)
** RI Gen Laws §§ 8-8.1-3(b); 15-15-3(b)

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arribaWho do I notify if I think the abuser should not have a gun?

If you think the abuser is violating state firearm laws, you can call your local police or sheriff department or the state police.  If you think the abuser is violating federal firearm laws, you can call the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). 

You can find contact information for sheriff departments in your area on our RI Sheriff Departments page.

You can find ATF field offices in Rhode Island on the ATF website.  For reporting illegal firearm activity, a person can also call 1-800-ATF-GUNS (1-800-283-4867).  Many ATF offices have victim advocates on staff (called “victim/witness coordinators”) and so perhaps you may ask to speak one of these advocates if you are having a hard time connecting with (or receiving a call back from) an ATF officer. 

A local domestic violence organization in your area may also be able to answer your questions and assist you in talking to the necessary law enforcement officials. You will find contact information for organizations in your area on our RI State and Local Programs page. 

Note: Generally, the abuser does not have to have knowledge of the law in order to be arrested for breaking the law.  If the abuser has or buys a gun in violation of the law, the abuser can be arrested, whether or not s/he knows that s/he was in violation of the law.* 

United States v. Lippman, 369 F. 3d 1039 (8th Cir. 2004); United States v. Henson, 55 F. Supp. 2d 528 (S.D. W.V. 1999)

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arriba¿Qué pasará si el abusador intenta comprar un arma?

Antes de comprar un arma de fuego de un/a vendedor/a licenciado/a, todos los/las compradores/as deben someterse a un chequeo de antecedentes penales realizado por Centro Nacional Instantáneo sobre Antecedentes (NICS por sus siglas en inglés).  Si el/la abusador/a tiene una orden de protección calificada en su contra o, si ha sido sentenciado/a por un delito grave o un delito menos grave por violencia doméstica intrafamiliar en cualquier estado, esos registros deben estar en el NICS, lo cual debería imposibilitarle a el/la abusador/a comprar un arma de fuego.  No todos los estados tienen un sistema automatizado de registro, lo que dificulta el proceso de verificación de antecedentes penales, por lo tanto, algunos criminales y abusadores/as logran burlar el sistema.  También es importante saber que no se necesita una verificación de antecedentes penales para ventas privadas y a través del Internet.

Si el/la abusador/a pudo comprar un arma y usted entiende que él/ella no debe tener una legalmente, usted puede avisarle a la policía y pedir que le quiten el arma y quizás ellos/as lo/a investigarán.  Generalmente no es buena idea asumir que porque el/la abusador/a pudo comprar un arma, es legal que la tenga. 

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arribaWhat is the penalty for violating state and federal firearm laws?

In Rhode Island, the penalty for possessing a gun if any of the following circumstances apply can be incarceration for 2 to 10 years:

  • has  been convicted of a "crime of violence" in Rhode Island or elsewhere;
  • is in "community confinement" or otherwise subject to electronic surveillance or monitoring devices as a condition of parole; or
  • is a fugitive from justice.*

If you have a restraining order against the abuser and s/he fails to surrender his/her firearm after being ordered to do so by the judge, s/he can be found in contempt.  The penalty for contempt, which is a misdemeanor crime, can be a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment for up to 1 year, or both.**

In addition, anyone who owns, has or buys a gun in violation of the federal firearm laws (which prohibit gun possession by someone who is the respondent on a restraining order or who was convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor) can be punished by a fine, jail time for up to 10 years, or both.***  Go to Federal Gun Laws for more information.

* RI Gen Laws § 11-47-5(a),(c),(d)
** RI Gen Laws §§ 15-15-3(h)(1),(i)(1); 8-8.1-3(g),(j)
*** See 18 USC § 924(a)(2)

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More Information and Where to Get Help

arribaI do not have a restraining order against the abuser and s/he has not been convicted of a crime. Can s/he have a gun?

Para más información sobre las leyes de armas de fuego en Rhode Island, puede ir al sitio web del Centro Legal para Prevenir la Violencia con Pistolas.

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arribaI've read through all of this information, and I am still confused. What can I do?

Trying to understand both federal and state laws can be confusing, but there are people out there who can help you better understand the law and your rights under the law.

  • You can also contact the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit to get more information about the federal firearm law and how it applies to you: 1-800-903-0111, ext. 2.
  • You can write to our Email Hotline.
  • You can contact a local domestic violence organization in your area. See our RI State and Local Programs page for referrals.

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