WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo has signed an executive order establishing a statewide “red flag” policy, ordering police to “take all available legal steps” to remove guns from dangerous individuals.
The executive order is more narrow than a proposed red flag bill in the General Assembly, also supported by Raimondo, which would create a new “extreme risk protective order” and give the courts power to take guns away from possibly violent people for a year.
Raimondo, a Democrat, said the deadly mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14 increased the urgency for the policy to be implemented immediately.
“We cannot wait a minute longer for Washington to take action to prevent gun violence,” Raimondo said, adding that she has lowered the flags to half-mast nine times for mass shootings since becoming governor.
The executive order directs the Rhode Island State Police to investigate any reports of red flags, including threats, posts on social media, recent acquisition of firearms or suspicious statements. After an investigation, which would include speaking to the person, police could remove firearms from the person’s home using existing law or ask them to surrender their firearms.
Raimondo emphasized that new legislation is required to give police additional powers to disarm individuals, which the executive order does not do. Existing law prohibits gun possession by convicted felons, convicted domestic abusers (including for misdemeanors), people who have been adjudicated as a danger to themselves and others due to mental illness, and people subject to a domestic abuse restraining order.
The executive order also calls for police to refer the person to a mental health facility and initiate criminal proceedings if appropriate.
“We have no doubt that having a Red Flag Law in Rhode Island will help us keep guns out of the hands of people when they are desperate and/or dangerous,” State Police Col. Ann Assumpico said in a statement. “In addition, we hope that away the opportunity to use a gun will prevent these individuals with a new opportunity – to seek the help and treatment they need.”
The executive order tees up broader legislation introduced in the General Assembly to give courts the power to remove guns from a person who has been deemed by a judge to be dangerous. The bill, introduced in the House Friday and scheduled to be introduced in the Senate Tuesday, would create the new protective order for people in danger of committing violence.
“This is not about taking guns away from people who are law-abiding citizens,” Raimondo said. “This is about keeping Rhode Islanders safe.”
The House bill would allow police, the attorney general’s office or family/household members to petition for the protective order. A hearing would be held within 21 days to determine if the person is indeed dangerous, and the guns would need to be surrendered to police if the order is put in place. The bill would also allow for a temporary protective order from owning guns while awaiting the hearing.
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, a Democrat who has been backed by the NRA, has signed on as a co-sponsor to the legislation.
“I believe that the Second Amendment’s an important constitutional right,” Mattiello said Friday. “However, kids are being shot in school. So that gives you pause, and it makes you think about it and you have to try and find the most effective ways of dealing with it.”
After the executive order was signed Monday, Mattiello said in a statement: “I was proud to co-sponsor the Red Flag proposal and it will be given a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee in the near future. It is positive that the Governor is placing attention on the Red Flag issue, but the law need to be changed by the General Assembly so law enforcement has the tools to take firearms away from individuals who pose a danger to themselves and the public.”
The Senate version is being introduced by Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, the chamber’s No. 3 Democrat.
Mike Stenhouse, the CEO of the conservative RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity, said his group supports red flag policies in general, but accused Raimondo of “trying to exploit recent events to advance an extreme political agenda,” and expressed concerns about due process rights for gun owners.
“While the Center supports the ‘red flag’ concept, it urges the General Assembly lawmakers to ensure that any new laws include adequate civil rights protections, with a high bar clearly set, and due process assured, before anyone’s constitutional rights are nullified or anyone’s property is seized,” Stenhouse said.”
“There’s no real opportunity for the person to advocate for themselves,” added Justin Katz, the research director for the center. “They are instantly on the defense. It’s up to a single judge to determine that they can take this person’s guns away.”
Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who is running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination to challenge Raimondo, said he could support the red flag bill if due process rights are respected.
“There has to be some kind of trained medical professional involved in that process that provides the opinion, that solidifies the opinion and the observations,” Fung said in an interview with Eyewitness News.
The National Rifle Association has not responded to repeated requests for comment on the legislation.