R.I. gun advocates seek lawsuit to ease permit standards

Associated Press / February 9, 2009
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PROVIDENCE - Gun advocates are visiting police departments across Rhode Island to get each department's standards for deciding who may be granted a concealed weapons permit.

Activists want to be denied a permit so they can file a lawsuit to roll back what they see as unconstitutional limits on gun ownership.

James Archer, head of the Citizens' Rights Action League Rhode Island, told the Providence Journal the group wants to construct a new body of law to protect gun owners.

In 2002, Archer won a lawsuit that found police departments cannot refuse to issue permits to suitable applicants.

Many police chiefs say they would prefer to leave the permitting process in the hands of the attorney general so there would be a single state standard and one central clearinghouse for information on permit holders.

"As much as I have confidence in the other police chiefs, it does help having one basic application, one basic standard that everyone meets," Pawtucket Police Chief George L. Kelley III, Rhode Island Police Chiefs' Association president, told the Journal.

According to statistics from the attorney general's office, 4,383 people held concealed-weapons permits in Rhode Island in 2007. That's about 10 percent fewer than the 4,895 in 2001.

At the crux of the debate are the limits of gun ownership.

To advocates like Archer, the ability to carry a gun around, as opposed to the ability to keep a gun in your home, should be a basic personal right.

After World War II, many Rhode Island police departments began referring anyone who wanted a license to carry a concealed weapon to the state attorney general.

That changed when the judge in Archer's 2002 lawsuit ruled that while the attorney general can continue to issue permits to carry guns, police departments cannot refuse to issue them if an applicant is deemed suitable.

Part of the problem is that the court never defined "suitable." Advocates and police chiefs have differing definitions.

"It is working out the way I expected," Archer said. "But not the way it should."

After the ruling, most departments adopted the attorney general's application standards, but some, including Coventry, Cumberland, Lincoln, North Providence, West Warwick, and Pawtucket, went further, deciding to require applicants go through the same psychological testing that prospective police officers must complete.

Archer said the psychological testing is just another hurdle designed to discourage applicants.

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