With the support and co-sponsorship of House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, Rep. Dennis M. Canario today filed legislation (2018-H 7688) that would create a means for courts to disarm people whose behavior is believed by authorities to pose a serious threat to others or themselves.

The bill, supported by the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association, is known as the “Red Flag” bill because it provides a course of action to prevent violence when people alert authorities to people who have shown warning signs that they intend to commit violence. Similar legislation is being considered in other states, particularly after last week’s 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. I thank my fellow officers for their leadership and commitment to this public policy issue. This legislation seeks to take guns away from individuals with behavioral health problems so that our children and the public will always remain safe,” said Representative Canario (D-Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton).

Said Speaker Mattiello (D-Dist. 15, Cranston), “I thank the Police Chiefs Association and all police officers for protecting us and putting public safety first. Behavioral health issues are increasingly causing irrational and unacceptable behavior and these individuals should be stripped of their firearms to protect our children and our society. This legislation is an effective step and an important tool to help law enforcement intervene and prevent tragic outcomes from occurring.”   

Jamestown Police Chief Edward Mello, a member of the executive board of the RI Police Chiefs’ Association and past president of the association, expressed support for the legislation.

“The members of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association greatly appreciate the swift response by Speaker Mattiello in putting forth a comprehensive ‘Red Flag’ bill,” said Chief Mello.  “We look forward to the opportunity to be part of the discussion as the bill is introduced and considered by the General Assembly.”

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.

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).