Unlawful Possession of Certain Firearms, Weapons or Devices

Criminal Defense Lawyer John L. Calcagni, III

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There are certain types of firearms, weapons or devices that are defined within the Rhode Island Firearms Act, some of which are strictly prohibited all together and carry their own punishments upon conviction.  Each are addressed separately below.

Possession of a Sawed-Off Shotgun or Sawed-Off Rifle

One firearm that is listed as being unlawful and prohibited is a Sawed-Off Shotgun or Sawed-Off Rifle. Rhode Island criminal law makes it unlawful for any person to possesses or have under his or her control either type of sawed-off weapon.

To be found guilty of possessing a sawed-off weapon, the defenfant (1) must have possessed or had under his or her control a sawed-off shotgun or sawed-off rifle; and (2) the weapon must qualify under the definition of that weapon.

Specifically, the sawed-off shotgun must have an overall length of less than twenty-six inches and/or barrel length of less than eighteen inches. The sawed-off rifle must have an overall length of less than twenty-six inches and/or barrel length of less than sixteen inches.  The definition of a firearm is technical under the law and when prosecuting criminal cases, all seized firearms are test fired and examined to ensure the item meets the legal definition of a firearm.  

During pretrial discovery of any firearm case, the State will typically turn over a firearm report that demonstrated whether or not the item was capable of being test fired, and it the weapon is in fact a firearm.  For criminal cases the proceed to trial, this fact may be proven by stipulation or agreement of the parties, or the State may call a firearms expert to offer testimony regarding the legal definition of a firearm, examination of the particular firearm in the case, and its functionality, as demonstrated by the test firing process. 

If convicted of unlawfully possessing a sawed-off shotgun or sawed-off rifle, a defendant faces up to 10 years in prison.  This penalty may be found under Rhode Island General Laws, Section 11-47-8(b).

Possession of a Firearm while Delivering or Possessing with the Intent to Deliver or Manufacture a Controlled Substance

Under criminal law and according to society in general, illegal drugs and guns are a deadly combination that pose great risks to community safety.   Because of this, the possession or control of a firearm while committing a drug offense is one circumstance where a convicted defendant may not only be sentenced for the underlying drug offense but also receive an enhanced sentence for the firearm offense.  The penalty for the firearm offense may be imposed consecutive to the sentence for the drug offense.

To be convicted of this particular crime, a defendant (1) must have delivered or possessed with the intent to deliver or manufacture a controlled substance and (2) at that time, he or she knowingly possessed or had under his or her control a firearm.

Rhode Island law provides that having lawful license or permit to carry or possess a firearm does not serve as a defense to this offense.  Even though the firearms license or permit may lawfully entitle the holder to possess a firearm, the protections afforded by the license are lost if the person is contemporaneously involved with any form of illegal drug trafficking.  If convicted of this offense, a defendant will face a sentence of imprisonment for not less than 2 years nor more than 20 years.   The firearm sentence may be imposed consecutive to any sentence imposed against the defendant for the drug offense sentence.  This enhanced penalty may be found at Rhode Island General Laws, Section 11-47-8 (c).  

Possession of Unlawful Attachable Device or Fully Automatic Firearm

Fully automatic weapons are unlawful and prohibited by Rhode Island law.  This includes those weapons that were initially manufactured as fully automatic weapons, or those items that were manufactured as semi-automatic weapons, but later modified at any time by any person to have fully automatic firing capability.   In this spirit, any person who owns or possesses a bump-fire device, binary trigger, trigger crank, or any other device that when attached to a semi-automatic weapon allows for fully automatic firing is in violation of this law.  If convicted of this offense, a defendant will face a sentence of imprisonment for not less than 1 year nor more than 10 years. This penalty may be found under Rhode Island General Laws, Section 11-47-8(d).  

Possession of Unlawfully Modified Semi-Automatic Firearm

A person can also be charged for Unlawfully Modifying a Semi-Automatic Weapon. To “modify” a semi-automatic means altering it so that it can shoot, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot fully automatic with a single pull or hold of the trigger.  

The mere possession of such a modified semi-automatic weapon is considered evidence of guilt regarding knowledge of possession modified weapon. If convicted of this offense, a defendant will face a sentence of imprisonment for not less than 1 year nor more than 10 years. This penalty may be found under Rhode Island General Laws, Section 11-47-8.1.

Unlawful Possession of Silencers

Under Rhode Island Law, it is also unlawful to manufacture, sell, purchase or possess any muffler, silencer, or device that silences or muffles the sound of a firearm when discharged.  These are more commonly known as “silencers.” The possession of such device is a felony and carries a term of imprisonment of not less than one year and one day if convicted.  This penalty may be found under Rhode Island General Laws, Section 11-47-20.

Possession of Firearm with Altered or Obliterated Serial Numbers

A common firearm offense that is charged with others is the Alteration of Marks of Identification on Firearms, found under Rhode Island General Laws, Section 11-47-24.  Every firearm that is manufactured has a unique serial code and other marking that are used to identify the firearm and track both its sale and ownership.  

Rhode Island criminal law makes it unlawful to change, alter, remove, or obliterate the name of the maker, model, manufacturer’s number, or any other mark of identification on any firearm.  It also makes it unlawful for a person to knowingly receive, transport, or possess any firearm which has been altered or obliterated and the possession of such firearm is prima facie evidence that the possessor has changed, altered, removed, or obliterated the firearm. 

History has shown that criminals will go to great lengths to conceal their identity and avoid detection by law enforcement.  One way they attempt to do so when committed crimes with guns is to erase, alter or obliterate identifying numbers and/or marking on the firearm to prevent law enforcement from tracing the item back to its point of origin, seller, last registered owner, and more.   Hence, Rhode Island criminal law imposes a penalty of up to 5 years in prison for convicted offenders. 

If you have been charged with unlawful possession of certain firearms and need representation, contact the RI Gun Defense Lawyers of the Law Office of John L. Calcagni III by email or call today at (401) 351-5100 to schedule a free consultation.