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RI ACLU Issues 14 Page Analysis Expressing “Great Concern” Over Red Flag Legislation

Saturday, March 03, 2018


The ACLU of Rhode Island issued a 14 page analysis expressing “great concern” about pending state legislation allowing family members and law enforcement officers to petition a judge to issue an “extreme risk protective order” (ERPO) against a person who legally owns guns, but is alleged to pose a “significant danger of causing personal injury to self or others.”

Read the Analysis in the Slideshow Below 

“The ACLU urges legislators to focus bills like these on addressing serious imminent threats to the public safety while safeguarding robust due process procedures before granting the courts and law enforcement agencies potentially intrusive powers over the liberty of individuals charged with no crime. A narrower bill with basic due process protections can provide the proper balance in promoting both public safety and constitutional safeguards,” said the ACLU in their analysis.

The ACLU’s analysis comes days after Governor Raimondo issued an executive order to take guns away from abusers.

Thursday on GoLocal LIVE from the State House, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said the legislation will be taken up soon.

"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,” Mattiello told Kate Nagle.

The Analysis

According to the ACLU, the court order authorized by the legislation could be issued without any indication that the person poses an imminent threat to others, and without any evidence that he or she ever committed, or has even threatened to commit, an act of violence with a gun.

“People who are not alleged to have committed a crime should not be subject to severe deprivations of liberty interests, and deprivations for lengthy periods of time, in the absence of a clear, compelling and immediate showing of need. As well-intentioned as this legislation is, its breadth and its lenient standards for both applying for and granting an ERPO are cause for great concern," said the ACLU. 

The ACLU also notes that a court decision would be made at a hearing where the person would not be entitled to appointed counsel. Under the legislation, a court order would require the confiscation for at least a year of any guns lawfully owned by the person, place the burden on him or her to prove that they should be returned after that time, potentially subject him or her to a coerced mental health evaluation, and give police broad authority to search their property for firearms.

Among the other points raised by the ACLU’s analysis:

  • The standard for seeking and issuing an order is so broad it could routinely be used against people who engage in "overblown political rhetoric" on social media or against alleged gang members when police want to find a shortcut to seize lawfully-owned weapons from them.
  • Even before a court hearing is held, and a decision is made, on a petition for an ERPO, police could be required to warn potentially hundreds of people that the individual might pose a significant danger to them.
  • Without the presence of counsel, individuals who have no intent to commit violent crimes could nonetheless unwittingly incriminate themselves for lesser offenses.

RI ACLU’s Analysis of Red Flag Legislation - March 2018


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