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Despite Mandatory Rhode Island Law, Family Court Only Orders Firearm Surrender From Domestic Abusers One-Third of the Time

Report Finds Substantial Gaps in the Family Court’s Implementation of the Protect Rhode Island Families Act

Volunteers with the Rhode Island Chapter of Moms Demand Action Collected Data by Attending Rhode Island Family Court Proceedings

PROVIDENCE, R.I. —  Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, today released a new report, “Domestic Violence and Firearm Surrender in Rhode Island.” The report compiles findings based on a court monitoring program, the first of its kind for the organization, conducted by volunteers with the Rhode Island chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

The report evaluates the implementation of the Protect Rhode Island Families Act, a law passed in 2017 to disarm prohibited domestic abusers, and offers recommendations for improvement. Toplines from the report:

  • The Protect Rhode Island Families Act increased the rate at which Family Court judges required domestic abusers to surrender firearms, compared to rates before the law went into effect.
  • However, despite the new law prohibiting firearm possession and mandating firearm surrender by all abusers who are subject to final Orders of Protection, Family Court judges still only ordered 34 percent of domestic abusers who were subject to final Orders of Protection to surrender their firearms.
  • Even in cases where the defendant was expressly ordered to surrender firearms, only 36 percent of those defendants filed a firearm surrender affidavit, which is required under the new Rhode Island law to prove that they no longer had firearms in their possession.

“It is a dangerous misreading of Rhode Island law to place the burden on survivors of domestic violence to request that their abuser be ordered to give up their guns,” said Eric Tirschwell, Managing Director of Everytown Law, the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. “Rhode Island’s new law prohibits firearm possession and makes surrender mandatory with every final order, and that’s why this report calls on the Family Court to ensure that surrender is ordered in every such case.”

“When survivors of domestic violence turn to the courts for help, they’re putting trust in a system during one of the darkest moments of their lives,” said Giovanna Rodriguez, a volunteer with the Rhode Island chapter of Moms Demand Action and member of the Everytown Survivor Network who was terrorized with a gun by her abuser. “The Rhode Island Family Court should do everything in its power to disarm domestic abusers because lives are on the line.”

“Guns and domestic abuse are a deadly combination and we’ve seen firsthand how the Family Court can make a difference in dangerous situations,” said Melissa Power, a volunteer with the Rhode Island chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “Our judges have the power to save lives and we urge the Rhode Island Family Court to heed the findings and recommendations in this report and continue to improve.”

Everytown for Gun Safety’s Rhode Island court monitoring program is the first of its kind for the organization, made possible by the grassroots network of volunteers with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Volunteers received training in Rhode Island’s domestic violence laws and court practice and monitored four Rhode Island Family Court courthouses, located in Providence, Kent, Newport and Washington counties.