R.I. Supreme Court orders auto shop owner’s concealed carry reinstated
More than two years after its revocation due to confusion over the use of sealed police reports, a Providence auto shop owner can again carry a concealed firearm.
The Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled 4-1 on March 2 that Attorney General Peter Neronha must renew Finest Car Wash & Auto Repair owner Peter Montaquila’s permit after it was denied following an incident at his store in 2020.
Frank Saccoccio, president of the Rhode Island Second Amendment Coalition who was also Montaquila’s attorney, said the high court’s decision affirmed what the U.S. Supreme Court decided last summer in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen.
“One of the core rights under the Second Amendment is to be able to carry a firearm on your concealed person,” he said. “Unless you have a serious criminal history, you should be able to protect yourself with a firearm.”
The case centered on a police report that the Attorney General’s Office relied on to make its denial, something Saccoccio said should have never been considered.
“Unless you have a serious criminal history, you should be able to protect yourself with a firearm.”
The AG has no plans to appeal the decision.
“Although we respectfully disagree with the court’s decision in this matter, we will of course follow the court’s mandate and issue the concealed carry permit to Mr. Montaquila as the Court directed us to do,” said spokesperson Brian Hodge. “This office’s primary responsibility is to ensure that when we issue concealed carry permits, we do so after a full and thorough review of the applicant’s background to ensure the safety of the community. We will continue to carry out that important mission in accordance with the laws of this state and the Constitution.”
“Victory for both sides”
Even as the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, the ruling upholds the legitimacy of the state’s fairly strict concealed carry law, said Gregg Lee Carter, a Bryant University sociology professor who researches gun control. He observed that law enforcement agencies have the discretion to deny a permit application if they find the applicant has no real need for concealed carry.
“[This] decision is oddly enough, a victory for both sides of the gun debate,” Carter said. “In sum, gun rights advocates have been given hard evidence here that the state of Rhode Island is not simply ‘anti-gun,’ but only wants to have some control over whom it allows to carry concealed weapons.”
Providence police arrested Montaquila on Oct. 28, 2020, for a misdemeanor simple assault after an incident involving his handgun at business. In his testimony, Montaquila said that a man came into his store and “became immediately combative and aggressive” toward his staff because they would not perform certain work for free.
“He was clearly under the influence of drugs at the time,” Montaquila stated. “He began to throw items off the desk and act[ed] very threatening[ly] in my store.”
Montaquila said he told the man he would have to leave the premises, but the man got very close to his face and shoved him.
“I put my arms around his shoulders and walked him out the door,” he said.
Afterward, the man who started the altercation called police, telling them Montaquila pointed a weapon at his head.
When the police arrived at the scene, they found Montaquila’s loaded gun tucked into his waistband. The Providence business owner testified that he brandished the gun because he “feared the other man was attempting to retrieve a weapon from his car,” but was never aimed at the man’s head.
“That individual lied,” Saccoccio said. “That person basically assaulted two or three people and he went to get a weapon. Cameras show that.”
The charges against Montaquila were eventually dropped and the record was sealed. But the AG’s Office used those records to deny his license renewal not long after the incident.
“The Attorney General’s office was basically ignoring court orders,” Saccoccio said. “Do you not understand that when a court orders you to seal those records you can’t rely on them anymore?”
He noted that his client has had a conceal carry permit for the past 20 years.
“And the first time he used it, they pulled it,” Saccoccio said.
The AG’s Office argued that it did not rely on the sealed incident report and that Montaquila acknowledged the circumstances surrounding his arrest. Prosecutors said they should have “broad discretion” to consider whether Montaquila “engaged in unlawful, dangerous, or violent conduct” when denying his permit renewal.
Dissenting justice says AG has discretion
In his lone dissent, Justice William Robinson sided with the AG: “[T]he Attorney General’s decision to deny Mr. Montaquila’s application was the product of a misunderstanding of what the Attorney General was entitled to rely upon in considering Mr. Montaquila’s application for a concealed-weapons permit.”
“The fact that the incident report indicated that Mr. Montaquila had ‘brandished’ his firearm during the incident constituted, in my judgment, more than enough of a reasonable basis upon which the Attorney General could make his discretionary decision not to approve Mr. Montaquila’s application,” Robinson wrote. “I am convinced that his decision to deny the application should be upheld.”
In the court’s ruling, Justice Melissa Long wrote “clearly relies on the incident report” and that the denial letter “notes that the incident report included facts that Mr. Montaquila did not divulge in his license application.”
“There is no legally competent evidence to support the Attorney General’s decision,” she wrote.