One of the best and worst things about living in America is that different states do things in different ways.
The laws are different everywhere you go, and some things that are flagrantly illegal and one state might be legal in another and even commonplace. Nowhere is this more obvious than when it comes to weapons, even less-lethal weapons like tasers.
Despite decades of continual police service, tasers aren’t legal for civilian possession in all 50 states. How about in Rhode Island? Are tasers legal in Rhode Island?
The legality of tasers in Rhode Island is unclear. Rhode Island has a statute banning the possession of tasers outright, while other sections seem to suggest that they are legal in certain circumstances. A federal court decision in 2019 ruling that the state ban was unconstitutional has been contested by the state of Rhode Island and the statutes remain on the books.
I can tell you right up front that the best advice I would give you when it comes to purchasing, much less carrying, a taser in Rhode Island is to be very, very careful.
I understand wanting to jump for joy because of the federal judge’s decision, but the state has contested it and left the statutes in question on the books.
Some people say that you can’t be charged with a crime in the aftermath of the decision, but it will be your ass on the line and not theirs if it comes down to it.
The situation really is ugly, but I’ll try to help you make sense of it below…
How are Tasers Classified in Rhode Island?
Tasers and stun guns don’t have a specific definition under Rhode Island law, although most worryingly tasers could fall under the definition of “firearm” based on a reading of the exact text found in 11-47-2.
Otherwise, stun guns are referred to by name in several other statutes, and of particular concern in 11-47-42. For now, review the definition of “firearm” under 11-47-2. Note that it includes “any other instrument from which steel or metal projectiles are propelled.”
Guess what? Tasers propel metal projectiles, they just do so through the use of compressed nitrogen instead of combustible gunpowder. That’s not good, and this is a great example of the sloppiness of Rhode Island’s statutes concerning weapons and tasers particularly.
When used in this chapter, the following words and phrases are construed as follows:
(6) “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, except crossbows, recurve, compound, or longbows, and except instruments propelling projectiles that are designed or normally used for a primary purpose other than as a weapon. The frame or receiver of the weapon shall be construed as a firearm under the provisions of this section.
Are Stun Guns Legal in Rhode Island?
It is uncertain. Stun guns are specifically forbidden by name, though it is presumed that tasers and stun guns alike fall under the intention of the statutes.
Specifically, the blanket ban on such weapons as shown in 11-47-42 was overruled by a federal judge in 2019, but as of press time, the offending statutes are still on the books and Rhode Island is actively contesting the ruling.
For that reason, it cannot be said for certain what the actual legal status of stun guns is in the state of Rhode Island.
11-47-42. Weapons other than firearms prohibited.
(a)(1) No person shall carry or possess or attempt to use against another any instrument or weapon of the kind commonly known as a blackjack, slingshot, billy, sandclub, sandbag, metal knuckles, slap glove, bludgeon, stun-gun, or the so called “Kung-Fu” weapons.
(3) No person shall wear or carry concealed upon his person, any of the above-mentioned instruments or weapons, or any razor, or knife of any description having a blade of more than three (3) inches in length measuring from the end of the handle where the blade is attached to the end of the blade, or other weapon of like kind or description.
Any person violating the provisions of these subsections shall be punished by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000) or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both, and the weapon so found shall be confiscated.
Can You Carry a Taser Openly in Rhode Island?
The situation is unclear. Presently, and according to various statutes, open carrying a taser on private property might be legal in Rhode Island…
However, the statutes are such a mess and the status of the federal court decision is so heavily contested that it is difficult to say what you could, or could not, actually be charged for.
Can You Carry a Taser Concealed in Rhode Island?
Again, we just cannot be sure. Nominally, assuming that possession of a taser is not entirely illegal you should be able to conceal it on your own private property or in your home, but I don’t know that I would risk trying that anywhere else, even places where weapons can normally go.
It’s also worth mentioning that the statutes concerning the Rhode Island concealed weapons permit specify that they only apply to pistols and revolvers, no other weapons, and that includes weapons like stun guns which is a de facto ban on the carrying of tasers as well.
Are there Age Restrictions on Taser Ownership or Possession in Rhode Island?
Strangely enough, it doesn’t appear so, and this is part of the confusion concerning tasers in Rhode Island.
You’ll see in 11-47-42 that it is nominally permissible to purchase a stun gun at the age of 18, but no one should sell a stun gun to anyone under 18 if they don’t have the written permission of their parent or guardian.
This, of course, seems to completely counteract the blanket ban on possession of these devices just a little bit farther up in that same statute! When I said that Rhode Island’s statutes concerning tasers and stun guns were a complete mess, I wasn’t exaggerating…
11-47-42. Weapons other than firearms prohibited.
(b) No person shall sell to a person under eighteen (18) years of age, without the written authorization of the minor’s parent or legal guardian, any stink bomb, blackjack, slingshot, bill, sandclub, sandbag, metal knuckles, slap glove, bludgeon, stungun, paint ball gun, (…) Any person violating the provisions of this subsection shall be punished by a fine of not less than one thousand dollars ($1,000) nor more than three thousand dollars ($3,000), or by imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than five (5) years, or both, and the weapons so found shall be confiscated.
What Do You Need to Do to Buy a Taser in Rhode Island?
Your only chance of purchasing a taser in Rhode Island is going to be getting one from a dealer of such devices. Considering the confusion and concern over the legal status of these devices in the state, don’t be surprised if you don’t find too many, though.
Note too that Rhode Island law presently states that anyone who sells these devices, or offers one for sale, might be guilty of a crime.
Accordingly, the manufacturer of the most popular taser device, Axon, lists Rhode Island as a state where it’s illegal for civilians to possess tasers and will not ship to the state.
Your best bet is to first talk to your attorney about your intentions, and then try to seek out a reputable dealer of firearms and other self-defense tools.
Is Training Mandatory for Taser Ownership in Rhode Island?
Assuming that possession of a taser is actually legal, presently, in the state you will still likely need to get a concealed weapons permit to carry one anywhere except your own home, and accordingly, that means you’ll need to undergo the necessary training in order to obtain the permit.
And I say again for clarity: this situation is highly tenuous and subject to change at any time! If you are intent on carrying a taser as part of your self-defense plan in Rhode Island, it is imperative that you contact a competent self-defense attorney as part of your preparations.
Where Can You Carry a Taser in Rhode Island?
Assuming, assuming, that you could legally carry a taser in Rhode Island, you should be able to take it anywhere that other legal weapons can go when carried for lawful purposes.
In any case, there are many restrictions that will affect them, and you cannot carry your taser into any government building or office, into any courthouse or courtroom or into most schools.
§ 11-47-60.2. Possession of weapons on school grounds — Notification.
(a) If a student is found to be carrying a weapon, as defined in § 11-47-42, a firearm or replica of a firearm, or commits an aggravated assault on school grounds as defined in § 11-47-60, the principal or designee shall immediately notify the student’s parents and the local police and turn the weapon over, if any, to the local enforcement agency.
(b) Any person who has reasonable cause to know that any person is in violation of this statute shall notify the principal or designee. The principal or designee shall immediately notify the student’s parents and the local police. Any person acting in good faith who makes a report under this section shall have immunity from any civil liability that might otherwise be incurred or imposed as a result of making the report.
(c) School superintendents shall receive notice from the clerk of the family court regarding the disposition of all cases involving juveniles from their school districts adjudged pursuant to this statute. This information shall remain confidential and be shared with school officials who deal directly with the student.
(d) The provisions of this section should not apply to the following activities when the activities are officially recognized and sanctioned by the educational institution:
(e) The provisions of this section shall not apply to colleges, universities or junior colleges.
When Can You Use a Taser to Defend Yourself in Rhode Island?
Once again, assuming that you are legally in possession of a taser in Rhode Island and you may use it for lawful self-defense, the only time you should even consider it is if you are being legitimately threatened with the possibility of death or great bodily injury.
Anything else will likely be considered an unlawful or excessive use of force, or else will be an outright crime in and of itself.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.