Red Flag bill passes House

STATE HOUSE — The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation (2018-H 7688Aaa), known as the Red Flag bill, which would create a means for the courts to protect against individuals who pose a significant danger of causing imminent harm to themselves or others by possessing a firearm. The bill passed by a vote of 60-8.

The “Red Flag” bill provides a course of action to prevent violence when people alert authorities about those who have shown warning signs that they intend to commit violence. Similar legislation is being considered in other states, particularly after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

“As a retired police officer with more than 25 years of experience in the law enforcement field, recent tragic events have placed into focus the extreme dangers of having firearms in the hands of troubled individuals,” said Representative Dennis M. Canario (D-Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton), the bill sponsor.

“This legislation is an effective step and an important tool to help law enforcement intervene and prevent tragic outcomes from occurring,” said Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello (D-Dist. 15, Cranston), a bill co-sponsor. 

Speaker Mattiello pointed out the legislation was a collaborative effort involving the Senate, the Governor’s and Attorney General’s offices, the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association, the courts, and advocacy groups.  

“This measure will go a long way to saving lives by legally seeking to remove guns from those who display a danger to themselves or others, and I believe this is a sensible and thoughtful approach that will have a meaningful impact on gun violence in our state,” said Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin. 

The legislation creates the “extreme risk protective order” which would allow authorities to disarm threatening individuals while also protecting their right to 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 would be a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The order would expire after one year, but could be renewed by the court. Those subject to an order could also petition once during the year to have it lifted.

Under the bill, law enforcement could petition the Superior Court for an extreme risk protection order if they believe the individual poses a significant danger of causing imminent personal injury to themselves or others by having a firearm. The petitioner must swear to an affidavit stating the specific statements, actions, or facts that support the motion.

A judge would determine whether to issue an order, considering many factors, including 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, including via social media, by the individual and evidence of any recent acquisition of a firearm.

The court may grant a temporary extreme risk protective order under a probable cause standard but must hold a hearing within 14 days to determine if a one-year extreme risk protection order should be issued. To grant a one year order, the court must find by clear and convincing evidence that the individual poses a significant danger of imminent injury to self or to others or himself if armed.

When an individual is served with the order, he or she must immediately surrender all firearms and any concealed carry permit in his or her possession to police or a licensed gun dealer. Additionally, the court may issue a search warrant identifying firearms in the individual’s possession, custody or control. The order would be reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and all state and federal databases used for determining whether those seeking to purchase guns have been prohibited from doing so.

In addition to Representative Canario and Speaker Mattiello, other sponsors of the bill include Rep. Gregory J. Costantino (D-Dist. 44, Lincoln, Johnston, Smithfield), Rep. Kenneth A. Marshall (D-Dist. 68, Bristol, Warren), Rep. Deborah A. Fellela (D-Dist. 43, Johnston), House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick) and Rep. Arthur J. Corvese (D-Dist. 55, North Providence).

The bill will now be referred to the Senate.

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