EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Law enforcement leaders across Rhode Island are calling on state lawmakers for help in their mission to protect the public while upholding people’s right to own a firearm.
The Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association on Tuesday voted unanimously to present to the General Assembly its proposal for a “red flag” law, which Eyewitness News has learned is so far receiving positive feedback from both sides of the aisle.
The law would temporarily prevent a person who’s shown certain “red flags” – signs of serious risk of harming themselves or members of the public – from possessing or purchasing firearms until they have a court hearing.
“Not necessarily one action, but a number of actions,” Jamestown Police Chief Edward Mello said Thursday. “A course of conduct, if you will, that we would present to a judge to take action and prevent that individual from having that firearm.”
The chiefs’ association urged members of the public to notify police of any individuals’ actions that could put themselves or others in harm’s way but oftentimes, according to Mello, officers are unable to act on these tips until it’s too late.
“What we see as a challenge is when we receive this information – very concerning information – there is really no tool in place for us to prevent those individuals from possessing a firearm or going out and obtaining a firearm,” Mello explained.
The chiefs’ association said the proposal aims to strike a balance between the Second Amendment and their efforts to mitigate gun violence, which is why it’s won the support of Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.
“It’s always been a problem of how do we deal with this in a legal manner,” Kilmartin said. “This answers that question.”
The chiefs’ association said the basic tenets of the law should include:
- Allowing any law enforcement officer (petitioner) to file an affidavit in the appropriate court requesting a temporary restraining order (TRO) against any person who displays a course of conduct which could place the public at risk if that person were to purchase and/or possess a firearm.
- A judge would use the affidavit to assess whether an individual poses an imminent danger and whether the interests of public safety necessitate a prohibition on the purchase and possession of firearms.
- A Judge may issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) (similar to a domestic TRO), ordering the immediate surrender and/or seizure of firearms in their possession, care, custody or control, prohibit the possession and purchase of firearms, and shall schedule a hearing before a judge within 21 days.
- After a hearing, the order may be converted to a protection order for the period of one-year. Prior to expiration, a hearing shall be held before the issuing court to determine if the order shall be extended or vacated.
- Nothing shall limit a respondent’s right under existing law to petition the court at a later date for modification of the order.
- The violation of either the temporary protection order or protection order shall constitute a felony.
- Any person who knowingly provides a firearm to a person subject of a TRO or protection order shall be guilty of a felony.
- All orders shall be immediately entered into the state restraining order data base and reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
State Rep. Mike Chippendale, R-Foster, supports the idea in theory but said careful consideration must go into crafting the law so as to prevent the possibility of it being abused by police.
“Generally speaking, I have no issues with “Red Flag” laws if crafted properly, however they cannot be so subjective that they could literally be applied to anyone simply based on the opinion of a single law enforcement officer,” Chippendale said in a statement.
House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, R-West Warwick, said in a statement she looks forward to researching the proposal and “determining whether it can in fact be a reasonable tool for preventing tragedy.”
“The school shooting in Florida has highlighted the need for our country to study and devise an effective method to remove guns from people who are a danger to themselves and others,” Morgan stated. “The sadness and alarm we feel should not be used for partisan purposes, but instead should compel us to work together to find answers to a very complex issue.”
“Removing classes or types of guns from everyone is too blunt of a policy,” she continued. “Responsible, law-abiding gun owners should not have their constitutional rights stripped away. Instead, we need to provide law enforcement, teachers, relatives and classmates with the tools to pinpoint individuals who are exhibiting troubling signs of possible gun violence.”
Connecticut has had a “red flag” law since 1999, according to the chiefs’ association, and a recent study showed the state has had a lower rate of suicide by firearms since its implementation.