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Legal Information: Rhode Island

State Gun Laws

Laws current as of July 19, 2024

If 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 partner1 (and this person is prohibited by law from returning the firearms to the abuser at any point while the restraining order is still valid);2
  • the Rhode Island state police or local police department; or
  • a licensed gun dealer.1

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.1

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

Who 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 Advocates and Shelters 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.1 

1 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)

What will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?

Before purchasing a gun from a licensed firearm dealer, all buyers must undergo a criminal background check that is processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is used by federal firearms licensees (FFLs), such as firearms dealers or pawnbrokers, to instantly determine whether someone is eligible to receive (own, possess, transport) firearms or explosives.1 If the abuser has a qualifying protection order against him/her, or has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor in any state, those records should be in the NICS, which should prevent the abuser from legally buying a gun. Not all states have automated record keeping systems, making it more difficult to process the criminal background check, and some criminals and abusers do slip through the system. Also, it is important to know that background checks are not required for private and online gun sales and so in those situations, the seller is not looking in the NICS.

If the abuser is able to purchase a gun and you believe that s/he should not be able to have one under the law, you can alert the police, and ask that his/her gun be taken away and perhaps the police will investigate. Generally, it is not a good idea to assume that because the abuser was able to buy a gun, it is legal for him/her to have one.

1National Criminal Justice Reference Service website

What 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.1

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.2

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.3  Go to Federal Gun Laws for more information.

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