PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Lawmakers are considering whether to allow adults in Rhode Island to buy stun guns, electrically-charged devices designed to shock and incapacitate people.
The devices, often known by the brand-name TASER and carried by police, are currently banned from civilian possession in Rhode Island. But a recent court decision in Massachusetts that struck down the ban in that state pushed Rep. Charlene Lima to once again introduce legislation to lift the ban in Rhode Island.
“No one should ever be prohibited from being able to defend themselves,” said Lima, D-Cranston, in an interview with Eyewitness News. She said she has heard from constituents, especially women, who wished they could use a stun gun for self-defense.
“Some people are not comfortable with a gun, a lethal form of self-defense,” Lima said. “This would be a non-lethal form.”
Lima’s bill, which was heard by the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday evening, would require adults over 18 to undergo a criminal background check and take a safety course before purchasing a stun gun.
“This is something that I believe has been illegal for too long,” said Frank Saccoccio, the president of the Rhode Island 2nd Amendment Coalition. “It should be a form where someone could be able to protect themselves if they don’t choose to have a firearm.”
Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said Wednesday he is opposed to lifting the ban, citing concerns about flooding the market with another weapon.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Pare said an interview. “It’s not going to serve the purpose of keeping people safe.”
He anticipated the devices being used inappropriately, even by people who purchased them with well-meaning intentions.
“I can’t imagine in crowded places, there’s a dispute between two people and all of a sudden these powerful stun guns are used against one another,” Pare said.
He added that Providence Police do not currently see a large black market trade of illegal stun guns in the city.
“This would only increase the assaults against police officers and really innocent people,” Pare said. “It’s a tool that will be used to commit crimes, without a doubt.”
In a letter to the committee, Rhode Island State Police Col. Ann Assumpico said she was concerned about civilians possessing stun guns, which she said can be deadly when used incorrectly or on certain people like children or pregnant women.
She also expressed concerns about the “potential threat it poses to law enforcement officers and to public safety.”
Rhode Island is one of just a handful of states that bans stun guns. Just last month, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court struck down that state’s ban on the devices, determining it was in violation of the 2nd amendment.
The SJC’s decision was a reversal from a previous decision that upheld the ban. The reversal came as the result of guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court, which vacated the conviction of a Massachusetts woman who carried a stun gun for protection against a former boyfriend. The Supreme Court also set aside the SJC’s previous decision upholding the Massachusetts stun gun ban.
A spokesperson for Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said he has not taken a stance on the legalization of stun guns in Rhode Island. Gov. Gina Raimondo’s press secretary Josh Block said Raimondo had not yet reviewed the specifics of the proposal.