After the House rejected his amendment to the red flag law, RI Representative Blake Filippi rescinded his support of the bill, ultimately voting against the legislation. Though the bill passed the House in April, Filippi explained last week why he voted against the legislation, which he said was a “good policy” conceptually.
Introduced after a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida left 17 dead, the red flag law creates an extreme risk protective order (ERPO). After being issued by a judge, that order would allow police, the attorney general or family members to request any individual deemed to be a danger to him- or herself or others immediately have his or her firearms and carry permits taken temporarily, before a set hearing to determine whether to keep away the firearms permanently.
However, Filippi said he took issue with the bill’s “insufficient due process protections.”
“Conceptually, ‘red flag’ bills are good policy because they take firearms away from dangerous persons,” Filippi said. “However, I voted against the ‘red flag’ bill because, as the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island] also argued, there are insufficient due process protections.”
In March, the ACLU analysis expressed concern about “the breadth of this legislation, its impact on civil liberties, and the precedent it sets for the use of coercive measures against individuals not because they are alleged to have committed any crime, but because somebody believes they might, someday, commit one.”
“Further, the court decision would be made at a hearing where the person would not be entitled to appointed counsel,” the analysis continues. “Under the legislation, a court order would require the confiscation for at least a year of any firearms 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.”
Filippi and other RI legislators, such as Representative Michael Chippendale, expressed similar concerns over the bill. Specifically, Filippi took issue with the bill not guaranteeing the defendant pre-hearing discovery for the evidence that will be used against them.
“The issue is that once the Superior Court takes an individual’s firearms in an emergency hearing (which I support), there is another hearing two weeks later. That second hearing can result in a 1-year ban on firearms possession. Unfortunately, the bill does not guarantee a defendant pre-hearing discovery for the evidence that will be used against them at this second hearing,” Filippi said in a letter to constituents last week.
Along with the defendant’s right to discovery, Filippi also said his amendment would have guaranteed the defendant a longer amount of time between the first and second hearing.
“What this amendment does, is it clarifies that a respondent, who’s about to have their fundamental rights taken from them, has a right to conduct discovery. And it also provides the respondent with the right to postpone the hearing, the fourteen day [second] hearing, until their discovery is completed and they can adequately defend themselves in the fourteen day hearing,” Filippi said.
“We should not be denying individuals to conduct discovery before their fundamental rights are taken away and we should not be denying the court to fairly adjudicate that decision based on a full evaluation of the evidence,” he continued. “We are denying the people the ability to evaluate the evidence by not giving them discovery and ordering them a hearing in fourteen days.”
Chippendale, who supported Filippi’s amendment, said the added language would have helped preserve the defendant’s constitutional rights.
“This doesn’t change anything in the bill, it changes nothing, except it gives the respondent the right to face their accuser in a reasonable amount of time,” Chippendale said. “All this does is ensure fundamental, constitutional rights.”
However, Deputy Speaker Charlene Lima said the red flag bill, without Filippi’s added amendment, struck the right balance between pro- and anti-gun legislation.
“I truly believe in the second amendment and I appreciate the amendment that Representative Filippi has put forward, and whenever it involves constitutional rights we have to be careful not to violate that,” Lima said. “The language that we have without the amendment gives a nice balance between those that are pro-gun and anti-gun.”
After the House rejected Filippi’s amendment, he said he could no longer support the bill, which ultimately passed the House. The House also passed a ban on bump stocks, which Filippi did support.