As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I listened
intently to the many perspectives presented to us during a recent hearing on
More than a thousand ordinary citizens took many hours out
of their day to express their deeply held beliefs. They wore different colored
t-shirts, depending on their points-of-view. Yellow t-shirts proclaimed “Gun
control does not work,” while red t-shirts declared “Moms Demand Action.”
Our political discourse often seems polarizing and divided,
particularly on an issue like gun control. However, I believe that there is
common ground. Most of us can agree that firearms should not be in the hands of
dangerous individuals. We have been able to build upon that common ground in
Rhode Island in recent years.
One carefully balanced new law takes firearms out of the
hands of those who commit domestic abuse. Another sensible new law provides
data for background checks when individuals are involuntarily committed for
mental health issues and pose a
danger to themselves or others. In both of these cases, while there may not
have been unanimous agreement, there was broad consensus from most parties that
these actions balanced constitutional rights with the need to keep our
The “Red Flag” legislation heard before the Senate Judiciary
Committee during our recent hearing is the type sensible legislation that
builds upon these efforts. The Red Flag bill enables courts to take action to
prevent violence when authorities are alerted about people who show warning
signs that they intend to commit violence. The legislation creates an “extreme
risk protective order,” which would allow authorities to disarm threatening
individuals, while also providing them due process. It has bi-partisan
support, with Senate Majority Whip Maryellen’s Goodwin’s bill having been
cosponsored by all but two members of the Senate, myself included.
In Rhode Island, we have a head start on this type of
initiative, thanks to new standards we put in place in 2016. That year,
legislation I sponsored in the Senate, along with Majority Leader Joseph
Shekarchi in the House, required that all law enforcement officers receive a
minimum standard of mental health training. Many departments have chosen to go
above and beyond that minimum threshold of training.
Now, when officers respond to an emergency, they are trained
to address scenarios that may stem from mental illness or substance abuse. It
is estimated that between 7 and 10 percent of all law enforcement calls involve
a person with mental illness, presenting a tremendous challenge for our first
responders. The new training in the handling and defusing of mental health
crisis situations is beneficial to all involved.
It also gives Rhode Island a leg up in implementation of the
Red Flag proposal. Officers are trained to recognize and address many types of
scenarios to prevent violence in our communities. Thanks in part to the mental
health training of Rhode Island’s law enforcement officers, the Red Flag bill
is one more sensible step that we can take as a state to address gun violence
in our communities while balancing constitutional rights. And our police
officers are ready for the job.
Stephen R. Archambault
is a Democratic state senator representing District 22, which includes
Smithfield and portions of Johnston and North Providence.