With the signing of an executive order in the City Council Chambers at Warwick City Hall on Monday afternoon, Governor Gina Raimondo became the first governor in the nation to use an executive action to advocate towards enacting a statewide “Red Flag” policy to restrict certain individuals from obtaining or possessing a firearm.
“I am proud of the fact that Rhode Island has some of the strongest gun laws in the country,” Raimondo said at the announcement ceremony. “As a result, we have lower levels of gun violence. But it also has to be said that our nation has some of the weakest gun safety laws in the world. So the fact of the matter is that we have to do more and we have to do better.”
The policy – which is expected to be introduced by the Rhode Island legislature in the near future – is intended to prevent those deemed to be at risk of harming themselves or others from using firearms to do so, by giving state and local police officers the authority to obtain a court order that would prevent the individual from buying a gun, or forcing them to relinquish firearms that they already own.
“We are not trying to prohibit people from lawfully owning guns. But we can and must take steps to prevent these individuals from posing a danger to themselves and others,” said Colonel Anne Assumpico, superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and director of the Rhode Island Department of Public Safety. “This is not something we take lightly. We would have to collect and present evidence to convince the judge that such an action is necessary, but we believe the Red Flag law will help enable us to get and keep guns out of the hands of people most likely to present a danger to themselves and to others.”
A Red Flag policy would allow a concerned family member, neighbor or community member to contact their local police and report the individual who is potentially a threat to themselves or others, which would then be investigated.
The second part of the executive order creates an educational awareness campaign through the Office of Health and Human Services, the Rhode Island Department of Education and the Department of Public Safety to inform people about what steps are available to them to take – such as how to recognize a Red Flag situation, and what action they can take afterwards.
Thirdly, the executive order establishes a gun safety working group that will work towards making recommendations to further address gun violence and support Rhode Island’s participation in a nationwide coalition for gun safety.
While the executive order does not actually change the law in Rhode Island to allow for the Red Flag policy to begin, it effectively “sets the table” for the legislative action to follow.
Similar policies have been enacted in five states besides Rhode Island, including Connecticut following the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, which occurred in 2012. Assumpico said that officials in Connecticut have already reported a lower number of suicides than average following the passage of Red Flag legislation.
That would be the next step in Rhode Island too, according to Raimondo – who formally asked the Rhode Island legislature to draft and pass Red Flag legislation into official state law. She said that she had already met last week with governors from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to create a regional governor’s coalition for gun safety. She said that Governor Charlie Baker joined the initiative over the weekend as well.
“Frankly, we’re tired of waiting for the federal government to act,” Raimondo said. “We have been waiting, and waiting, and waiting for Congress to do the right thing – and we’re not going to let them off the hook.”
Raimondo extended the conversation towards the legislature to include drafting up an official law banning military style assault weapons – such as the AR-15 type weapon, a customizable, semi-automatic rifle that was used in the Sandy Hook shooting, Aurora movie theatre shooting, San Bernardino shooting, Sutherland Springs church shooting and the most recent mass shooting at a high school in Florida.
“Connecticut does it, Massachusetts does it, New York does it – it’s time for Rhode Island to do it,” Raimondo said of an assault weapons ban. “Military style weapons, these weapons are made to kill people. They are weapons that belong in the military. They do not belong in our schools, they do not belong in our communities. They do not belong in our streets.”
The announcement was heralded by gun safety advocates.
“We don’t deserve to live like this, and our children don’t deserve to die like this,” said Jennifer Boylen, a volunteer advocate for Moms Demand Action, a gun control advocacy group that formed after Sandy Hook. “The young voices of students from the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School have said it in the last week better than many of us ever could – we need more than thoughts and prayers from our elected leaders, we need action.”
Boylen cited gun violence stats – that on an average day 96 Americans are shot and killed, including seven children and teens; that 50 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner each month and that black men are 13 times more likely to be killed by gun violence than white men. She thanked Raimondo for her responsive action to the Parkland shooting.
“The country is watching. Our children are watching,” she said. “And the governor’s leadership is an example we hope that other states will follow.”
Although Jamestown Police Chief Edward Mello strongly supported the executive order, he stressed that more work still needs to be done to prevent more mass shootings.
“We know that this one law will not prevent all gun violence or all gun-related deaths, but this is an important tool that is much needed by law enforcement,” he said. “There is more work to be done in the area of mental health treatment and informing the public of the warning signs. There is more work to be done regarding background checks and access to firearms in general. There is more work to be done in limiting high capacity, rapid-loading weapons.”
Mayor Scott Avedisian, a Republican, said that the Red Flag policy is one that anybody – regardless of their stance on the Second Amendment – should be able to see the merit in.
“This one I think is very easy,” he said. “I think the fact that we’re one of only eight states that allows someone with a concealed carry permit to be able to bring it into a school is wrong. I think there are reasonable approaches to this and I’m hopeful that we can meet in the middle and get some real important things done. I always try to look for common ground where we can build consensus, and I think the Red Flag is a logical next step.”
The Governor framed the moment as an opportunity to come together and make legislative improvements to increase the safety of everybody.
“So let’s not miss this moment,” she said. “We’re here today because we care, we believe change is possible, we’re going to sign this executive order, you’re going to pass this legislation and together we’re going to make Rhode Island a safer place for everybody.”