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Mattiello co-sponsors ‘red flag’ gun bill; Raimondo to sign executive order

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) —  A bill to take firearms away from people deemed at risk for violence has the support of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, a Democrat who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association in 2016.

The bill was introduced Friday by Rep. Dennis Canario and co-sponsored by other representatives, including Mattiello. Gov. Gina Raimondo also announced Friday she would sign an executive order on Monday to institute the so-called “red flag” policy on a temporary basis while lawmakers debate the policy in the General Assembly.

“The tragedy in Parkland has renewed the urgency once again for states to take action to prevent gun violence,” Raimondo said in a statement. “On Monday I will sign an Executive Order establishing a statewide red flag policy that will take effect immediately, but we still need to pass legislation so these protections are in place permanently.”

The bill was recommended by the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association, whose executive director said police are often told about a person’s concerning behavior, but can’t do anything until a crime is actually committed.

Mattiello said in an interview Friday he believes the legislation could have prevented the school shooting in Parkland, Florida last week.

“I believe that the Second Amendment’s an important constitutional right,” Mattiello said. “However, kids are being shot in schools. So that gives you pause, and makes you think about it and you have to try and find the most effective ways of dealing with it.”

“It easily could have helped avert that tragedy,” Mattiello added.

The bill would create an “extreme risk protective order,” which a court could impose on a person who “is an imminent danger to cause personal injury to self or others by having access to a firearm.”

A family member, household member, police or the attorney general’s office would be able to petition the Superior Court for the extreme risk protective order. A hearing would be held on the matter within 21 days, but a temporary order could be put in place while awaiting the hearing.

If a judge certifies the order, the person would need to surrender his or her guns for a year. The court could extend the order after that, and the person would have a chance every year to petition to get his or her firearms back.

“I think it would be a real, practical way to protect our children,” Mattiello said.

People convicted of certain crimes are banned by federal law from possessing firearms, but police have lamented their inability to remove guns from a person who exhibits red flags but has not yet committed a crime.

“What we see as a challenge is when we receive this information – very concerning information – there is really no tool in place for us to prevent those individuals from possessing a firearm or going out and obtaining a firearm,” Jamestown Police Chief Edward Mello told Eyewitness News on Thursday.

“This legislation is a way to stop tragedies before they happen,” said Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, D-Providence, who plans to introduce similar legislation in the Senate on Tuesday. “Of course someone who has guns and is making serious threats to harm people with them should not be armed.”

Prior to the Florida shooting, the National Rifle Association had opposed red flag legislation proposed in other states. The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Rhode Island’s red flag proposal.

The NRA has donated $3,675 to Mattiello’s campaigns since 2006, endorsed his most recent re-election campaign and rated his stance on gun rights an A+. Asked if he was fine with potentially losing NRA support, Mattiello said he was more concerned about the public.

Frank Saccoccio from the Rhode Island 2nd Amendment Coalition said he thinks the idea for the red flag bill is a good one, but he would need to read through the specific language before taking a position.

Steven Brown, the executive director of the ACLU, said the Rhode Island chapter would be reviewing the legislation next week to determine if there are any civil rights issues.

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Rhode Island native in Florida describes tragedy in his community

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PARKLAND, Fla. (WPRI) — A former member of the Eyewitness News family is sharing his perspective from the devastated community that has lost 17 people in a mass shooting.

Mark Economou is a native of Lincoln, Rhode Island and a former longtime employee and anchor at Eyewitness News. He now lives in Coral Springs, Florida, bordering Parkland. Families from both towns attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a gunman opened fire Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s something that you never think is going to happen in your community,” Economou said in an interview Thursday. “There’s plenty of folks we know here in the community that lost their kids.”

Economou’s daughter and son, ages 15 and 17, attend a charter school a mile away from Stoneman Douglas High. But many of their friends attend Stoneman.

“[Morgan’s] friend is 15 years old, and said she was running out just crunching on bullet shell casings,” Economou said.

His son Patrick actually drove to Stoneman Douglas right after getting out of the school, because he had lacrosse practice at the Stoneman field. It was around the same time the shots rang out inside the school.

“By the time I got a hold of him, he was already at the field over at Stoneman Douglas,” Economou said. He works as a public information office for Boca Raton Police, and knew about the shooting right away. “I said to him ‘ you need to get out of there.'”

Patrick drove away, all while first responders were rushing to the scene.

“Conceivably, he could’ve drove right by this guy as he was running the opposite way. That’s how close it was to everything that happened.”

Economou said Patrick ended up driving to a friend’s house, who lived right in the neighborhood where suspect Nikolas Cruz was ultimately captured by police.

Both of Economou’s children attended a candlelight vigil in Parkland on Thursday night. Economou said many of their friends are devastated, traumatized, and don’t know when they’ll be going back to school.

“How do you tell your kids that it’s okay?” Economou asked. “That it’s safe to go back to school? How do you say that? Because we don’t even know.”

Florida School Shooting: In-Depth Coverage » | Remembering the Victims » | Talking to Children about Tragedy » | How to React to an Active Shooter »