Illegal firearms inundate Rhode Island

Law enforcement agencies encountered more than one ghost gun a week in 2022

By: - April 5, 2023 1:11 am

AR-15 lower receivers made using a 3D printer. (Getty image)

Untraceable firearms are a growing problem across the state, says a new report from Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha. In particular: ghost guns — firearms that are crafted at home using a 3D printer or a mail-order kit.

The state saw 66 cases involving ghost guns last year, with nearly each one being produced with parts from Polymer80, one of the country’s largest manufacturers of ghost gun kits.

Legislation passed in 2020 prohibits the possession, sale and manufacturing of these kinds of firearms. Ghost guns lacks a serial number as required by the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968. Since they are produced largely or even entirely from plastic, they not be detectable by traditional metal detectors or other security scanning equipment.

“They are sought out more and more by those who are otherwise prohibited from lawfully possessing guns in Rhode Island,” Neronha wrote.

2022 gun report final print


This latest report is the first since requirements were expanded by the General Assembly in 2021 to include statistics such as gun type and case outcome. Neronha notes that prosecutors charged and disposed of 799 cases involving illegal firearms last year. 

The vast majority — 486 — occurred in Providence County. There are more than 380 cases from last year still pending, according to the report.

“Like so many other parts of the country, our communities continue to be inundated with guns,” Neronha wrote.

Along with the prevalence of ghost guns, the AG noted that assault weapons, and high-capacity magazines are being seen “in every corner of the state, both rural and urban.”

According to the report, there were more than 100 criminal cases where police seized magazines capable of firing 16 to 30-plus rounds of bullets, including one last June that resulted in a 23-year prison sentence for a Providence man who committed an armed assault on a Providence police officer and a robbery with a ghost gun.

Under state law passed last year, gun magazines can only hold up to 10 bullets.

“At the core of the Attorney General’s mission, and one of my top priorities, is ensuring the safety of Rhode Island’s communities,” Neronha said. We are prioritizing our investigatory and prosecutorial resources both toward identifying the perpetrators and drivers of violent crime and toward bringing them to justice.”

In a statement, RI Coalition Against Gun Violence Board Chair Sydney Montstream-Quas said that Neronha’s report demonstrates the importance of passing stronger stronger firearms safety legislation.

“People who own illegal guns or magazines should be prosecuted, with these illegal weapons being removed from communities, preventing further gun violence,” she said.

Glenn Valentine, the president of the Rhode Island Second Amendment PAC, contends that gun-related legislation is not working.

“It clearly isn’t stopping criminals from going out and building these firearms,” he said. 

Valentine likened the attempts at gun control to trickle-down economics.

“You basically target everyone who doesn’t break the law in hopes that 20 years from now that the supply of these things dries up,” he said.

Combating illegal possession

Neronha’s report also touted the state’s efforts to curb the prevalence of illegal weapons.

The biggest highlight has been the office’s Urban Violent Crime Initiative successfully connecting its National Integrated Ballistic Information Network machine to the national database last year.

The AG’s office notes that the machine allows investigators to analyze a shell casing from one shooting and identify connections between it and any other shooting in Rhode Island or anywhere in the Northeast.

Prior to August 2022, Rhode Island had only one of these machines for the entire state. 

Use of this machine led to the arrest of a West Warwick couple in October accused of manufacturing and trafficking ghost guns.

“Regardless of how long the laws have been on the books, we are using them to focus our resources on those who are truly driving violent crime in our communities and bringing them to justice, with significant sentences that will keep them off the streets and keep our communities safer for as long as possible,” Neronha wrote.

This story has been updated.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Christopher Shea
Christopher Shea

Christopher Shea covers politics, the criminal justice system and transportation for the Rhode Island Current.