March 28th, 2022

The Honorable Cynthia A. Coyne – Chair
Senate Judiciary Committee
State House
Providence, RI 02903
RE: Senate Bills 2361 (For), 2377 (for), 2378 (for), 2543 (for), 2734 (oppose), 2733 (oppose),
2653(oppose), 2628 (oppose), 2224 (oppose), 2116 (oppose), 2704 (oppose)

Dear Chair Coyne:

I understand the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a large number of bills concerning
firearms, their components, possession and use this coming Wednesday. I would have loved to be at the
Committee meeting in person to testify to my positions on the various bills – both for and against –
however as you may know, I have an active law practice and my clients’ legal needs must come before
my personal agenda during the work hours. Instead, I submit this written testimony to the Committee
about my legal concerns and thoughts on various bills that will be considered.

There are several bills which should be supported by every member of the General Assembly
who believes the citizenry should have meaningful and easy access to the courts to seek redress for their legal concerns. SB 2361 is such a bill that must be supported to provide everyday citizens with cost-
effective, easy access to the courts to seek review of the decision of a licensing authority to deny a concealed carry permit. As of right now, the only way a person may seek review of such a denial,
whether it comes from the Attorney General or a police chief, is to petition the Rhode Island Supreme
Court to issue a writ of certiorari, which as any lawyer knows is no easy task. It is discretionary and
Supreme Court practice is particularly time consuming and expensive for lawyers and clients alike. To
create a cause of action in the Superior Court to appeal these decisions would be to give Rhode Islanders
access to our court of general jurisdiction to present evidence and have a hearing on the merits, all
while being able to offer attorneys the ability to represent these clients at a more reasonable price level
and at the court with which most are familiar. It is meaningful due process that would be available to
more permit applicants to ensure the licensing authorities are being held to the letter of the law when
they deny a person a carry permit – something that is rarely being done right now because the current
process to do so is so onerous. This shouldn’t be a political issue but one of fairness – a notion that
neither political party should want to avoid.

I also support SB 2377, which would recognize out of state concealed carry permits from states
that recognize Rhode Island’s permit. Rhode Island is currently an outlier in this area. Rhode Island
refuses to recognize any other state’s permit, yet at least 27 other states will recognize Rhode Island’s
permit in their states in one form or another. Our neighboring state, Massachusetts, their permit is
recognized in at least 28 other states in some form. Reciprocity is currently an issue where Rhode Island
has lagged behind even in other areas of licensing, though that has started changing in recent years. For
example: a lawyer could not waive into the Rhode Island Bar without at least taking an attorney’s exam
up until a few years ago. Now, Rhode Island accepts Uniform Bar Exam scores administered in other
states and even lowered the minimum passing score. All lawyers are required to undergo many of the
same background requirements required for permit holders so putting in place a system where Rhode
Island could feel comfortable recognizing another state’s concealed carry permit could be tailored to ensure that our citizens are protected in conformity with Rhode Island values much in the same way that our state does with lawyers, doctors and other licensed professionals. I urge the Committee to set a framework to allow this kind of reciprocal recognition with our sister states. This could also be accomplished though the passage of SB 2378.

For purposes of consistency and clarity among the licensing authorities, I urge the Committee to
pass SB 2543, which would definitively define the “suitability” clause in permit applications, standardize
the applications for the license, and create a cause of action in the lower courts of our state if an
application is denied. As an active attorney practicing in this area of law, I can say each licensing
authority has its own opinions on suitability which causes many applicants to bring their applications to
so-called “friendlier jurisdictions” who tend to follow the law as currently written. This bill would
remove any ambiguity about who is or is not suitable to receive a permit and allow all people applying
for a license to understand well in advance of applying what will be required of them during the
application process – something that many, many people do not know in advance of applying because,
in some cases, the licensing authority does not even offer applications, in violation of current state law.

There are many other bills which have good components to them and should be vigorously
discussed, but I also want to address the bills with which I have severe legal concerns. SB 2734 is
absolutely an undue hardship to the fundamental right to keep arms in one’s own home for self
defense, as recognized by the United States Supreme Court in Heller v. District of Columbia and applied
to the states in McDonald v. City of Chicago. Rhode Island already has a statute that criminalizes unsafe
storage of a firearm where children would have unlawful access to it. This bill, if passed, would
effectively gut the holding in Heller in that no person could have a firearm readily accessible to them in
the event of a breaking & entering or home invasion without putting themselves in jeopardy of criminal
prosecution. One can never know when a situation like this will arise so having a gun locked up in a safe
and inaccessible during a home invasion situation because of a law like this leaves the homeowners or
occupants at the mercy of their attacker(s). It is understandable that we want to protect children and all
persons from irresponsible gun handling, but this is a law which not only endangers the gun owners
themselves, but endangers their children and families by removing the last line of defense in a very
lethal situation.

There are several other bills, such as 2733, 2653, 2628, 2224, and 2116 which I believe would
conflict with the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, particularly in light of the anticipated United
States Supreme Court decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen. It is very likely
that the legal landscape of Second Amendment law will be meaningfully different when the Court issues
that decision in June, so to consider and pass bills which could either lessen or limit one’s ability to
either be licensed to carry a firearm, ammunition, or firearm components, (such as magazine limits,)
before knowing how the US Supreme Court will weigh in on these issues would be putting the cart
before the horse. As legislators, it is incumbent upon you all to know the legal landscape of the area
upon which you seek to legislate and given the potential breadth of this upcoming decision, I would
strongly urge the Committee to hold these bills for further study to determine whether or not they will
comply with any decision of the United States Supreme Court in June. It is the prudent thing to do so
that our state is not in a legal quagmire should bills pass which are inconsistent with any holding of the
United States Supreme Court.

I would be remiss if I failed to address the issue of eliminating the ability of local licensing
authorities – the chiefs of police of each individual town or city – to issue concealed carry licenses under
R.I.G.L. §11-47-11. This is being considered under SB 2704. This would be an extraordinarily inappropriate change in our laws. First, all applicants, whether applying locally or through the Attorney General, must undergo the same rigorous background investigation and qualification process. The biggest difference, and the difference that would likely conflict with the right to bear arms, would be that forcing all applicants to apply to the Attorney General under R.I.G.L. §11-47-18 would then require the applicant to demonstrate a particularized “need” to have that permit, which is exactly the issue the United States Supreme Court is currently considering in Bruen. Currently, local applicants need only present any proper reason for wanting a permit and if those applicants meet the objective criteria and
background checks for obtaining a permit, our Supreme Court has said that applicant is entitled to that
permit. This is not so for Attorney General applicants. Our Supreme Court has held that R.I.G.L. §11-47-
18 vests the Attorney General with nearly unlimited discretion to accept or reject an application for a
pistol permit. Having this as the only available path for Rhode Islanders to obtain a pistol permit would
effectively bar most law-abiding citizens the ability to legally carry a firearm in this state given the
Attorney General’s discretion to determine a person’s “need” to carry a firearm. It would be utterly
irresponsible for the General Assembly to pass any bill related to this without first watching what the
U.S. Supreme Court decides in Bruen, as the N.Y. statute in question is substantially identical to R.I.G.L.
§11-47-18. If New York’s statute is invalidated as a result of the decision in Bruen and Rhode Island has
repealed R.I.G.L. §11-47-11, the right to bear arms in Rhode Island will be in legal purgatory since there
would be no effective way to obtain a permit without another re-write of our law.

I realize this is a long piece of testimony and I appreciate the Committee’s time and
thoughtfulness in considering my legal opinions on these matters. I believe in protecting everyone’s
individual constitutional rights – no matter what they are – and the right to keep and bear arms is no
different. I urge the Committee to use prudence, patience and common sense when considering these
bills during this session.


Charles C. Calenda, Esq.

cc: Senate Judiciary Committee Members

Chas Calenda

Author Chas Calenda

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