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RI ‘red flag’ law not strong enough to win proposed federal grants

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – If a federal “red flag” bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Jack Reed is signed into law, Rhode Island would have to strengthen its year-old version of the measure or else lose out on funding.

Reed’s bipartisan proposal would create a U.S. Department of Justice grant program for states that enact red flag laws, which create Extreme Risk Protection Orders. The orders let courts authorize police to block an individual’s access to guns if the person is deemed a danger to themselves or others.

Reed said he and his co-sponsors, who include Florida Republican Marco Rubio, structured the bill as an incentive program for states because it is the “prerogative of local law authorities and police departments” who have to petition the courts for the order.

“What we want to do is create a national program, and the best way to do that is give incentives to states and localities to adopt these types of laws,” Reed, a Democrat, told Target 12. “The incentives would be direct incentives if they adopt the red flag law and also direct a great deal of grants to police departments and local law enforcement agencies.”

Rhode Island enacted a red flag law in June 2018, but it allows only police to petition the courts for an order blocking someone’s access to guns. The federal law goes a step further, giving family members the ability to petition the courts.

Rhode Island “would have to change the law in order to get the benefits,” Reed said. “Many times family members have more accurate information about what’s going on, and if they can directly go and apply to the courts – through due process – for an order, that would be much more effective in many cases.”

Reed’s bill is also backed by Maine’s two senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King.

Rubio’s home state of Florida is among the 17 that already have a version of the red flag law. In states without it, Rubio said, “if you find someone who is telling you, ‘I am going to kill people and I am going to hurt them,’ there is nothing you can do until they do it.”

As Target 12 reported Wednesday, a review of court data shows police in Rhode Island have asked the courts to remove someone’s access to guns 21 times since the red flag law went into effect.

Reed has called on Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the Senate back into session this week to tackle the red flag law.

“We tried last year and there was silence, particularly from leadership,” Reed said. “But given the horrific events of the last several days I hope, in fact, we should be back right now working on this legislation. It is of such national importance.”

Earlier this week President Trump expressed support for a red flag law, but Reed argues his rhetoric has only enflamed tensions in the country.

“I think he has exacerbated the problems. There has always been tensions in this country, but every other president has sought very deliberately to bring people together,” Reed said. “President Trump constantly tries to divide the country for his own benefit, not for the benefit of the country.”

Tim White ( is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

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