Could RI Law Have Disarmed A Domestic Abuser Like The Texas Church Shooter?

Nov 7, 2017

Rhode Island's new gun laws aim to prevent shootings by domestic abusers like the gunman in Texas’s church massacre.

Credit RIPR Flo Jonic

State Rep. Teresa Tanzi sponsored Rhode Island’s House bill to disarm domestic abusers. The South Kingstown Democrat says the state’s stricter gun laws could have prevented someone like the gunman in the Texas church shooting from owning firearms.

“Had he been convicted in Rhode Island after the date of enactment, he would have been not only prohibited, as he was federally prohibited,’’ Tanzi said, “we would have had the ability to confiscate his weapons.”

Federal law bars anyone convicted of domestic abuse -- even a misdemeanor -- from buying or possessing firearms. But gun control advocates say the federal statute has no mechanism to remove firearms from those convicted of domestic abuse.

The National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action wrote on its website that the Rhode Island law “could easily result in innocent, law-abiding gun owners having their rights stripped.”

Rhode Island is among more than two-dozen states that have enacted laws to confiscate firearms from domestic abusers. The laws reflect a growing awareness about the link between domestic violence and mass shootings.

More than half of all mass shooters -- 54 percent – have a history of domestic or family violence, according to the nonprofit advocacy group, Everytown For Gun Safety,

A Boston University School of Public Health study published in October in the Annals of Internal Medicine found states that require people subject to restraining orders to relinquish their firearms have a 14 percent lower rate of intimate-partner-gun-related homicides than states with no such laws.

Federal law should have prevented the Texas shooter, David P. Kelley, from legally buying or possessing the rifle he used to kill 26 people.  But the information about his 2012 domestic violence conviction never made it into the proper federal database.

But even Rhode Island’s law would not have disarmed someone like the Texas shooter. Rhode Island’s law went into effect July 1 -- five years after Kelley was court-martialed for assaulting his wife and toddler stepson.