To the Editor:
Evidentially last week Jim Roehm joined the anti-gun crusade of Janne Roehm (see her letter to the editor March 29) who described herself as “a concerned citizen…who lives in North Kingstown”. Mr. Roehm asserts “the recent Red Flag law will save laws” which is an a priori assertion.
He claims “The civil liberties issues were addressed prior to passage” and that we should trust “police professionals” to be diligent because they respond to domestic violence calls.
First of all, the civil liberties issues and due process concerns were not addressed in the law. The Rhode Island ACLU issued a statement saying it is a departure from our system of justice because it is the first time a constitutional right can be taken away on an allegation that someone might do something in the future.
Next, the Red Flag law was not passed as a domestic violence measure. It is an emotional, knee-jerk reaction to the mass shooting at the Parkland, Florida high school when it was revealed that the 19-year old former student had numerous run-ins with law enforcement and that the FBI had ignored two tips that he represented a threat.
Finally, police officers and judges are not trained mental health professionals most of whom cannot agree on whether a person represents a threat to themselves or society. In fact, after two guidance counselors identified the Parkland shooter as a risk he was referred to a mental institution that concluded he “was at low risk of harming himself or others”.
Notably the police chiefs association is bemoaning the fact that their officers are now required to undergo training in handling mentally ill persons because it costs $50-$60 dollars per officer.
Taking away a citizen’s firearms under the Red Flag law merely requires that a present or former household member allege that someone is a danger. Attorney Charles Calenda who prosecuted gun crimes in the AGs office for twelve years is concerned that police and judges will err on the side of caution even though the accusation seems to be groundless.
Take, for example, a teenager who doesn’t like the man who married her divorced mother and wants retribution. She tells her school resource officer that he threatened her with one of his guns. That sets the wheels in motion. Does anyone really think the judge who issues the Extreme Risk Order and the police who execute the search and seizure of the accused person’s firearms are going to take the chance that the allegation might not be true?
A glaring shortcoming of the law is that it sets no standard of care and storage for firearms seized by the police. It merely says the state police perhaps in consultation with the chiefs of police association will come up with some guidelines sometime. So someone not guilty of anything can have personal property worth perhaps tens of thousands of dollars seized and carelessly handled and possibly damaged or destroyed.
In his cogent statement State Representative Anthony Giarrusso, who courageously voted against the bill, said, “Grandstanding and haste do not good laws make. Those who gloss over the fine points in order to score cheap political points to advance an ideological narrative do all of us a disservice.”
I could not have said it better myself.
Richard J. August