In order to purchase a pistol or revolver in Rhode Island, residents must show the seller a “blue card”: a certificate that shows the applicant has passed the state’s requisite gun safety exam. But current state laws require that all records of blue card applications be destroyed after 30 days by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, which distributes the cards — making it potentially more difficult to authenticate the cards when they are used to purchase weapons.
While RIDEM does not foresee changing the way blue cards are distributed to qualified applicants, the department is evaluating its current policy on record-keeping, according to Chief Public Affairs Officer of RIDEM Michael Healey. He also noted that the statute that the current policy is based upon does not explicitly require RIDEM to destroy the lists of names after 30 days.
“For several years, we have relied on an internal legal opinion interpreting the law as requiring us to do that,” Healey said, adding that it is “reasonable to infer” that the attorney who wrote this interpretation was mindful of state and federal laws that prohibit government agencies from keeping a registry of privately owned firearms.
Although the statute, RIGL 11-47-35, states that residents can be administered a blue card after passing the safety exam or completing a safety course offered by RIDEM, no such gun safety course is currently provided by RIDEM. Healey said the department lacks the funding and staff to initiate a program for handgun safety. Most firearm-related funding available to the department is earmarked specifically for recreational hunters, and a general gun safety course “would be outside the scope of eligible funding for hunter safety education.”
In October 2018, a 43-member working group formed by Governor Gina Raimondo noted that the blue card test is often administered by gun dealers themselves and not by a government agency. Consequently, the report stated that there is “often no way to verify whether the test was properly administered.”
The working group recommended that in order to streamline gun licensing rules, the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office should serve as the central agency for issuing permits rather than RIDEM. Additionally, it called for a revamped firearms safety test that could potentially reduce the flow of guns to criminals.
According to State Attorney General Public Information Officer Kristy dosReis, the office also agrees that the current licensing system should be strengthened.
“Rhode Island’s blue card program, as currently instituted, does little to ensure that handgun purchasers are adequately familiar with state gun laws and the safe handling and operation of firearms,” wrote dosReis in an email to The Herald.
The R.I. Attorney General’s office also recommended similar improvements to those suggested by the working group. DosReis wrote that more comprehensive safety courses and tests would ensure the exams are administered by neutral parties such as the government, instead of by gun stores. Additionally, like the working group, dosReis wrote that the office believes RIDEM should not administer the program and that a public safety entity like the State Police should instead.
Gabe Mernoff ’22, leader of the University student group Thoughts, Prayers, Action, said the current blue card policy makes little sense and that TPA believes it is the government’s responsibility to implement stronger gun safety laws to safeguard communities.
“The analogy that I often draw is with driver’s licenses. We make sure that people have to go through lots of education, training, testing and time to make sure they can drive these hunks of metal at 60 miles per hour,” he said. “I don’t see why it shouldn’t be the exact same way with a weapon.”
Although Mernoff would like to see the current blue card system change, he said it is not often discussed in his gun control advocacy work.
“In advocacy work a lot of times, it isn’t necessarily the most potentially effective or difference-making laws that get to the top of the campaign’s agenda,” Mernoff said. “It’s often the politics of what is most likely to get people’s attention or what’s likely to get passed under the circumstances.”
Changing the current system to preserve blue card applicant records would come close to establishing a gun owner registry. Mernoff said that TPA has discussed advocating for gun owner registries, but it has never gotten to the top of their agenda because of its potential “big government” connotation and lack of “ring and attractiveness” compared to other gun control and safety measures.
The Rhode Island 2nd Amendment Coalition wrote in an email to The Herald that they “decline to comment to anyone from Brown.”