What are firearm and weapon offenses?
The Second Amendment right to bear arms is not without limitation. A complex web of state and federal laws exists regulating the possession and use of firearms.
Some laws restrict the type of firearms that one may possess, while others place limitations on magazine capacity or the number of bullets that a particular firearm may hold at one time.
Federal firearms laws apply uniformly throughout the country, while state laws vary from state to state.
Examples of firearms law
In Rhode Island, the law governing Firearm and Weapon offenses can be found under Title 11, Chapter 47 of the General Laws. This is also known as the “Firearms Act.”
The Act contains various firearm and weapon laws that provide definitions, punishments, exemptions, requirements, and procedures for crimes involving firearms and weapons in Rhode Island.
Rhode Island firearms and weapons laws are complex and consist of both felony and misdemeanor charges. The possible punishments that a person may face if convicted of a firearm or weapon charge vary and may be severe.
Examples of firearms law include those banning possession of automatic weapons or in some states, semi-automatic, military-style rifles.
Other examples include magazine capacity limitations of 10 rounds in semi-automatic handguns or pistols and restrictions on the use and possession of certain types of ammunition.
Another example of restrictions related to the modification of firearms such as converting a lawful semi-automatic rifle to automatic rifle or cutting the barrel on a shotgun to a length below the required legal barrel length limit.
What is considered a firearm
The first thing a person should understand is what is considered a “firearm or weapon” under the law. There are several types of firearms and weapons that one may not think are illegal, however, many items may be considered a firearm or weapon under the Rhode Island law if used in a particular way.
Under Rhode Island criminal law, a “firearm” includes any machine gun, pistol, rifle, air rifle, air pistol, “blank gun”, “BB gun”, or other instrument from which steel or metal projectiles are propelled, or that may readily be converted to expel a projectile. However, this excludes crossbows, recurve, compound, or longbows and any instruments that propel projectiles which are designed or normally used for a primary purpose other than a weapon. These terms are found in Rhode Island General Laws, Section 11-47-2.
Furthermore, the law provides a more direct description of certain firearm or weapon terms that are common with firearms and weapons charges. Below are a few examples of the more common firearm terms.
- Machine Gun: is described as any weapon that shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger. The frame or receiver of the weapon, any parts designed and intended for use in converting a weapon into a machine gun, and any parts from used to assemble a machine gun if the parts are in the possession or under the control of a person.
- Pistol: includes any pistol or revolver, and any shotgun, rifle, or similar weapon with overall length less than twenty-six inches (26″).
- Sawed-Off Rifle: means any rifle with overall length of less than twenty-six inches (26″) or barrel length of less than sixteen inches (16″).
- Sawed-Off Shotgun: means any shotgun with overall length of less than twenty-six inches (26″) or barrel length of less than eighteen inches (18″).
- Trigger Crank: is a device that attaches to the trigger of a semi-automatic weapon and causes the weapon to fire by turning the crank handle.
- Binary Trigger: means a device that replaces a standard trigger on a semi-automatic weapon that causes the weapon to fire two rounds in one pull of the trigger. It fires upon being pulled back then again upon release.
- Bump-Fire Stock: is a device that replaces a semi-automatic weapon’s standard stock and causes the weapon to rapidly fire when the device is slid back and forth rapidly.
What is considered a weapon (Not a Firearm)
A “weapon” under Rhode Island criminal law is defined as any blackjack, slingshot, billy, sandclub, sandbag, metal knuckles, slap glove, bludgeon, stun-gun, or instrument affiliated with “Kung-Fu.” A weapon also includes any crossbow, dagger, dirk, stiletto, sword-in-cane, bowie knife, or other similar weapon designed to cut and stab another and any razor, or knife of any description having a blade of more than three (3) inches in length or other weapon of like kind or description.
The carrying, possession, or use of any of these weapons is considered a misdemeanor crime. A person convicted of a misdemeanor Rhode Island weapons charge faces a fine of up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment for not more than one year. This penalty may be found under Rhode Island General Laws, Section 11-47-42.
Possession of firearms
Under Rhode Island criminal law, the word “carrying” is defined as to have or to bear upon or about one’s person. There also must be a conscious carrying, which means that the person must have knowingly been carrying the firearm or weapon. Therefore, “carry” and “possess” involve largely the same legal ramifications. Carrying is a form of possession. The essential element of “carry” means an intentional control of the designated object with knowledge of its nature. This, in turn, is the same as actual possession.
There are two ways to possess a firearm or a weapon:
- actual possession
- constructive possession
A person has actual possession of something if he or she has direct physical control over it, with knowledge of its nature. A person has constructive possession of something if he or she does not have direct physical control over it, but knowingly has both the power and the intent at a given time to exercise dominion or control over it, either by himself or herself, or through another person.
Sole or joint possession
The law recognizes that possession may be sole or joint. A person has sole possession of an object is he or she alone has actual or constructive possession. If two or more persons share actual or constructive possession of an object, that possession is joint.
Mere presence near something or mere knowledge of its location, by itself, is not enough to prove the possession of something. The defendant must have known the nature of what he or she possessed. In this regard, the very possession of an item may give rise to the inference that the person who possesses the item knows the nature of what he possesses.
Possession is not conditioned on the length of time that a person has an item under control. Knowing or conscious contact with an item, even though fleeting or momentary, is sufficient to constitute the element of possession, so long as during that time period the defendant knowingly and intentionally exercised dominion and control over that item.
Some states ban possession of a firearm outside of your home in absence of a special license often referred to as a license to carry a firearm or concealed carry permit.
Exceptions may apply for transporting unloaded firearms from your home to a designated shooting range or hunting area, or for persons moving from one to state to another who must transport their firearms across state lines from their former state of residence to their new home or state of residence.
Who is prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm
While the Second Amendment Right to Bear Arms is set forth in the United States Constitution, there are limitations on who may actually possess a firearm. In Rhode Island, there are certain persons who are prohibited by law from owning, purchasing, carrying, transporting, or having possession of a firearm or ammunition.
Persons prohibited from having firearms include:
- any person who has been convicted of a crime of violence
- is a fugitive from justice
- any person who has entered a plea of nolo contendere to or been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanor offenses involving domestic violence
- a disorderly conduct conviction involving the use or threat of use of a deadly weapon or force
- any person on community confinement or parole
This list may be found under Rhode Island General Laws, Section 11-47-5. Prohibited persons who violate the Rhode Island firearms laws by unlawfully possessing a firearm may face jail or not less than 2 years nor more than 10 years in prison.
In addition to the above persons, any unnaturalized foreign born person who entered the United States unlawfully or having legally entered but now remains in the United States unlawfully, is prohibited from possessing a firearm. A conviction for such person in most cases result in deportation. This may be found under Rhode Island General Laws, Section 11-47-7.
Under federal law, any person who has previously been convicted of a felony in any state is prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition. Violators face federal prosecution by the United States Attorney’s Office in United States District Court in the district where the firearm or ammunition was unlawfully possessed.
For example, offenders in Rhode Island may face federal indictment in United States District Court in the District of Rhode Island for what is commonly referred to as being a felon in possession. This federal criminal liability is in addition to any potential criminal liability that may also exist under Rhode Island criminal law and may be found at Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 922.
Lastly, it is unlawful for a person to sell, transfer, or deliver a firearm to a person under the age of eighteen (18). However, there is an exception for a minor who is accompanied by an adult, age twenty-one (21) or older; who has consent of his or her legal guardian or parents; and who is engaged in a course of firearms training. A person who violates this law could face imprisonment for not less than 10 nor more than 20 years. This penalty may be found under Rhode Island General Laws, Section 11-47-30.
In addition to a firearm, the sale, transfer, or delivery of ammunition to a minor is also prohibited and carries a term of imprisonment of not more than 10 years if convicted. This penalty may be found under Rhode Island General Laws, Section 11-47-31.
Transporting of firearms
Transporting of firearms, where permissible, is also subject to certain restrictions regarding the precise manner by which firearms must be transported.
Common restrictions require the firearms to be transported in an unloaded condition and stored separately from any ammunition in a locked case or container.
Carrying a loaded firearm on one’s person or inside of a vehicle in the absence of a special license, is often barred by law. This includes both openly carried and concealed loaded weapons.
Discharging a firearm
Discharging a firearm in an area other than a designated range is also illegal. This includes the obvious condition of firing or discharging a firearm in the direction of others for purposes of inflicting death or bodily harm.
Similarly speaking, it is also against the law to discharge a firearm inside of a dwelling other than a designed indoor firing range, or in a populated or inhabited area such as a neighborhood, public park or similar area, or commercial establishment.
Many laws punish both intentional and accidental discharges under these varying circumstances.
Failure to comply with any gun or firearms law
Failure to comply with any gun or firearms law, regulation or restriction may lead to criminal consequences under both state and/or federal law. Some states are more liberal or restrictive than others when it comes to regulating the ownership, possession, carry and use of firearms.
If you have been charged with a firearms or gun offense
It is important that you consult with and seek legal representation from an attorney who is familiar with firearms and well-versed in the nuances of firearms law in both state and federal jurisdictions.
Types of firearm and weapon offenses we defend:
- Unlicensed Possession of a Firearm
- Carrying a Dangerous Weapon While Committing a Crime
- Possession of a Loaded Firearm
- Felon in Possession of a Firearm
- Obliterated Serial Number on Firearm
- Unlawful Distribution or Trafficking of Firearms
- Possession of Sawed Off Shotgun
- Unlawful Possession of Certain Weapons
- Possession of an Unlawful Weapon
- Possessing a Firearm in a Motor Vehicle
- Explosive Device Offenses
Gun, firearms and weapons case results
Read our successful case results go to gun case results.
Testimony from firearms and drug trafficking case
I am exceptionally satisfied with John Calcagni. I hired him to represent my son after police raided his home and seized money, a number of firearms and quantities of both marijuana and cocaine. Police went there with warrants for this arrest and to search the home. RI Firearms Attorney John Calcagni fought hard to get my son released on bail. He found some technical problems with the warrants and prepared a biographical packet for the judge on my son’s behalf. He attended several court appearances continuously fighting for bail. In the end, John was successful in persuading both the prosecutor and judge to release my son on bail. He is not back home and reunited with his little son. John and my son are continuing to fight the case. I have no doubt my son’s case, fate and future are in the best legal hands around.
Contact Experienced Gun Lawyer John L. Calcagni, III
If you have been charged with a firearm, weapon, or gun offense and need representation, contact the RI Gun Defense Lawyers of the Law Office of John L. Calcagni III at (401) 351-5100 to schedule a free consultation.