Rhode Island Governor Signs Executive Order on Guns

by | February 27, 2018

By Patrick Anderson

Gov. Gina Raimondo moved to keep attention focused on gun violence Monday, signing an executive order aimed at disarming potentially dangerous residents and making Rhode Island the first state to act on gun policy since a gunman shot and killed 17 people at a Florida high school earlier this month.

The "Red Flag Executive Order," which Raimondo signed at Warwick City Hall surrounded by gun-control advocates and police officers, may turn out to be mostly symbolic. A change in state law is required to give the courts and police the authority to seize firearms from people they believe are dangerous.

Just such legislation has been introduced in the General Assembly and is co-sponsored by fellow Democrat House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello.

While acknowledging that legislation is needed, Raimondo said she was compelled to take any steps within her power after listening to the stories of Parkland High School students and her own 13-year-old daughter argue for a change in gun policy.

"Every time we talk about it, Ceci cuts me off and says, 'Mom, what are you going to do? Why hasn't anyone done anything?'"

Raimondo told a crowd inside the Warwick City Council chamber. "Since I've been governor, I've ordered the flags to half-staff nine times because of a mass shooting. Nine times. So, I can understand where the question comes from: 'Mom, what are you going to do?'"

The executive order directs state police to "assess all red flag reports," warnings about potentially dangerous individuals, and take "whatever steps are legally available to remove guns" from those people.

It also orders the state health and education departments to create a public-awareness campaign about what "red flags" residents should look for and what they should do if they see any.

And it would create a "gun safety working group" to work on gun policy in conjunction with the "Gun Safety Coalition" Raimondo entered into last week with the Democratic governors of Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. (Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said over the weekend he would also join the coalition.)

The red flag bill introduced by a group of Democratic lawmakers in the House would allow family members, the attorney general or police to ask a judge for an "extreme risk protection order" against someone they believe poses a "significant danger of causing personal injury to themselves or others." If granted, the order would allow police to seize firearms belonging to the Rhode Islander who had been flagged.

More than a dozen other states are considering similar bills to require people to surrender their firearms and prohibit them from buying new ones, if a judge determines they pose an imminent danger. California, Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon and Washington already have red flag laws.

Mattiello, who has an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association, offered this 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 needs 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."

Attempts to reach Frank Saccoccio, president of the Rhode Island Second Amendment Coalition, the National Rifle Association's affiliate here, were unsuccessful Monday.

The conservative Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity said in a statement the executive order was trying to "exploit recent events to advance an extreme political agenda" narrowly focused on "limiting access to -- and confiscating -- firearms."

In addition to the red flag law, Raimondo also supports a state ban on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and prohibiting non-law enforcement officers from carrying guns in schools.

The potential Republican candidates, in general, have opposed gun control measures, especially an assault weapons ban or barring people from carrying concealed weapons in schools.

On Monday Cranston Mayor and governor candidate Allan Fung, who has been silent on gun issues so far this year, told WPRI he thought the red flag bill was "too broad."

Meanwhile in Washington, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline said Monday that he re-filed legislation to restore a national assault weapons ban.

(c)2018 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.)