Goodwin, Ranglin-Vassell to introduce ‘red flag’ bill to prevent firearms tragedies
STATE HOUSE – Sen. Maryellen Goodwin and Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell will file legislation Tuesday to allow courts to disarm dangerous people who have been giving warning signs that they might commit acts of violence.
The legislation, which is in place in five states and under consideration in 18 others plus Washington, D.C., would provide law enforcement a critical tool that they do not currently have to prevent tragedies and protect the public.
The bill is known as a “red flag” law because it allows police – or family or household members – to seek from Superior Court an “extreme risk protective order” that prohibits an individual from possessing firearms, based on threats and other warning signs that the person might commit violence.
“This legislation is a way to stop tragedies before they happen. Of course someone who has guns and is making serious threats to harm people with them should not be armed. Too often, after a mass shooting we learn about all the warning signs people saw from the shooter and wonder why they still had guns. But the truth is, there isn’t always a legal means to stop them. Our legislation provides a speedy but fair process to ensure that those who pose a legitimate risk do not remain armed,” said Senator Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence).
Said Representative Ranglin-Vassell (D-Dist. 5, Providence), who since the summer has been leading a coalition to address gun violence, poverty and joblessness in Rhode Island, “People are often told, “If you see something, say something.’ This legislation gives the courts and law enforcement a critical tool to make sure that when someone alerts them to a person who represents a physical threat, and they agree on the severity of that threat, they have the means to take action to prevent tragedy. As a teacher, as well as a parent, I believe that this legislation will save lives while providing due process to those who are ‘red flagged.’”
The legislation creates the “extreme risk protective order” which would allow authorities to disarm threatening individuals while also providing them due process. The order would prohibit an individual from possessing or purchasing guns, would require them to surrender guns in their possession and would invalidate any concealed carry permits they have. Violating such an order — or providing firearms to someone subject to one — would be a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The order would be in place for one year, but could be renewed by the court. Those subject to one could also petition once per year to have them lifted.
Under the bill, police, the attorney general or a family or household member of an individual could petition Superior Court for an extreme risk protection order if they believe the individual poses a significant danger of causing injury to himself or others by having a firearm. The petitioner must give an affidavit stating the specific statements, actions, or facts that give rise to a reasonable fear of future dangerous acts by that individual.
A judge would determine whether to issue one, considering any recent acts or threats of violence with or without a firearm and patterns of such threats or acts in the previous year, and the individual’s mental health, substance abuse and criminal histories. The court would also consider any unlawful, threatening, or reckless use or brandishing of a firearm by the individual and evidence of any recent acquisition of a firearm.
Court hearings to determine whether to issue an extreme risk protective order must be held within 21 days, but in the meantime, the petitioner can request a temporary extreme risk protective order, similar to a temporary restraining order, which would be issued within a day if the court agrees that there is probable cause to believe the individual poses an imminent threat to others or himself if armed.
When an individual is served with the order, he or she must immediately hand over all firearms and any concealed carry permit in his or her possession to police or a licensed gun dealer. The order would be reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and all state and federal lists used for determining whether those seeking to purchase guns have been prohibited from doing so.
Such legislation could have helped to prevent the Parkland, Fla., school shooting last week. Police say the alleged shooter carried out the attack with a legally purchased semi-automatic weapon. Before the shooting, his mother had contacted law enforcement about his behavior on multiple occasions, but Florida does not have a red flag law. It is among the 18 states where this legislation is pending.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a national advocacy group that supports the bill, a nationwide study of mass shootings from 2009 to 2016 showed that in least 42 percent of those incidents, there is documentation that the attacker exhibited dangerous warning signs before the shooting.
Connecticut, California, Indiana, Oregon and Washington have enacted red flag laws, and they are also credited with reducing suicide, which is committed by firearm more than half the time. According to Everytown, a 2017 study of Connecticut’s red flag law, enacted in 1999, found that the law had averted an estimated 72 or more potential suicides.
For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903