WASHINGTON, DC – Rhode Island is getting $1.2 million in new federal funding to prevent gun violence thanks to a federal law championed by U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) designed to help keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals who pose an imminent violent threat to themselves or others. 

‘Red flag’ laws allow family members, police officers, teachers, health care providers, and others to petition the court to temporarily disarm individuals who are believed by law enforcement to pose a significant, imminent threat to themselves or others by having custody or control of a firearm, or by purchasing, possessing, or receiving, a firearm.  This new federal funding will bolster Rhode Island’s efforts to prevent and reduce gun violence and administer its red flag law and other crisis-intervention strategies.

Reed, along with U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), authored the bipartisan Extreme Risk Protection Order and Violence Prevention Act, to incentivize states to adopt “risk protection orders.”  Rhode Island and Florida have similar red flag laws that give law enforcement and judges the authority to prevent individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing firearms, while still providing due process protections.

Reed and Rubio’s bill provided the basis for red flag language in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (P.L. 117-159), which President Biden signed into law on June 25, 2022.  The law allocated $750 million to help states administer red flag laws and other intervention programs, and it includes funding for mental health treatment as well.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced the initial allocation of over $231 million of this funding to 49 states under the Byrne State Crisis Intervention program.  The Rhode Island Department of Public Safety will administer these federal funds and help raise public awareness about how the state’s red flag laws can enhance public safety and prevent suicides, mass-shootings, and other gun violence tragedies.

“This is good news for public safety and reducing gun crimes.  Red flag laws can help keep firearms away from dangerous people who pose a serious threat to themselves or others.  Rhode Island’s law establishes an orderly process where, if someone is alarmed by an individual’s disturbing behavior, they can alert the authorities and there is a legal process, which includes due process, and it allows a judge to order removal of guns from someone deemed an imminent threat.  There is still more we can and must do to combat gun violence, but this federal funding will help Rhode Island administer its red flag law and other crisis-intervention programs, and raise awareness about how extreme risk protective orders work and how they can be utilized to avoid violent outcomes and prevent tragedies,” said Senator Reed.  “Rhode Island’s red flag law is a crisis intervention tool.  In order for people to use it effectively, they have to know it is there and how they can utilize it.  This federal funding will help the state with public awareness, training, and other gun violence prevention initiatives.”

Rhode Island’s Extreme Risk Protection Order Act (R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-8.3-1) was enacted in 2018 and may temporarily prohibit a person from having possession, custody, or control of firearms or from purchasing or receiving firearms.  These petitions are heard by the Superior Court, which processed over 30 cases annually from 2019-2021. Knowingly providing false information to the court would result in a penalty of up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

With this $1,213,223 in federal funding, Rhode Island will form a Crisis Intervention Policy Board as part of the existing Criminal Justice Policy Board, which consists of over two dozen people, including various judges, the Attorney General, law enforcement, and the director of the State’s mental health agency.  The board will seek to increase awareness of extreme risk protection orders and increase training of various members of the criminal justice community to increase access to these orders for those in need.

The Crisis Intervention Advisory Board will focus its early work on efforts to increase communication, education, and public awareness around extreme risk protective orders. This outreach will include intervention training for judiciary and court staff, family members, and first responders on program implementation.