Tension and anxiety have reached new heights in 2020, as have gun sales across the country. National news outlets have reported extensively on this topic this year, finding that sales of firearms, especially to first-time owners, have spiked nationwide in the face of several ongoing national crises.

One way to measure the rise in gun ownership in our state is to look at Rhode Island “Blue Card” Pistol/Revolver Safety Certificate applications. Blue cards are issued to certify that an applicant has successfully passed the state’s requisite 50-question safety exam and earned a score of 80 points or higher. The exam is administered at Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) approved firearms dealers and sporting clubs throughout the state and is comprised of multiple choice and true-or-false type questions based on information contained in the study booklet entitled “Today’s Handgun Safety Basics” and Rhode Island Firearms Laws.

Along with other state requirements, applicants must present a Blue Card anytime they purchase a pistol or revolver. Because Blue Cards don’t expire, it’s a safe assumption that many of the applications this year are from first-time gun buyers.

WhatsUpNewp reached out to RIDEM, the state agency tasked with tracking and processing these requests, to understand how many Blue Card applications have been processed this year. RIDEM provided us with the annual totals of Blue Card applications dating back to the early 2000s.

Numbers on top of each bar are the number of Blue Card applications for that year.
*Through September 30, 2020.

With over 9,300 applications as of September 30th, the record for most Blue Card applications in a single year has already been smashed in 2020. The numbers indicate an increase of 45% from the recent highest year on record (2013), and an increase of 151% over last year. Applications in 2020 are on track to surpass the 10,000 mark well before the end of the year.

WhatsUpNewp reached out multiple times via email and phone to five firearms and ammunitions retailers throughout the state to inquire about sales, traffic at their dealerships, and types of firearms being purchased, but none returned our messages or were willing to go on record. However, one store owner who wished to remain anonymous did tell us that their sales were up roughly 200-300% over last year.

Captain Derek Borek, Director of Training for the Rhode Island State Police and Department of Public Safety, explained that in addition to the Blue Card certification, applicants wishing to purchase a firearm in the state are also required to pass a background check. “After you fill out an application, there is a seven day waiting period and background check,” he said.

Like other cities around the country, gun violence has increased in Providence this year. “There has been an uptick in gun-related crimes in Providence and throughout the country,” Captain Borek said. “But this does not necessarily mean there is a relationship with the uptick in legal purchases of firearms.”

Despite the spike in firearms sales, Captain Borek said State Police have not made any modifications to their regular procedures. “We haven’t had any additional trainings; we continue to have confidence in our normal process. We understand there’s an uptick but there’s a process people get vetted through.”

Captain Borek also mentioned gun buy-back programs like the one held in Providence earlier this month as well as Rhode Island’s Red Flag Law as notable gun safety measures.