A bill that would give the V.I. Police Department the flexibility to suspend the licenses of registered gun holders if they’re a threat to themselves or others got an airing before the Senate Wednesday but was ultimately held because of concerns from senators and other testifiers.
Called a Red Flag law, 22 other states and the District of Columbia have enacted something similar, which Police Commissioner Ray Martinez told senators Wednesday the department is in full support of. Right now, once a gun license is issued, it can’t necessarily be rescinded if someone claims the gun holder is a threat. However, Martinez said the bill allows family members, social workers, and other groups to file a petition to get the license revoked if they find it necessary, triggering a court process that could end with a judge directing VIPD to revoke the license for a year or more.
In written testimony read at the hearing, V.I. Attorney General Ariel Smith said these types of laws have held up under constitutional challenges. She also wrote, “Extreme risk laws, or ‘red flag’ laws, are intended to allow for quick intervention when a person is at serious risk of harming themselves or others with a firearm. Currently, 21 states and the District of Columbia have adopted similar laws.”
The bill still raised concerns with Justa “Tita” Encarnacion, commissioner of the Health Department. Her concerns were potential legal repercussions, stigmatizing individuals with mental health issues, and the closing down of therapies where openness and support were required. She added that law enforcement officers confiscating a weapon could set off an incident that would not have happened otherwise.
Sen. Kenneth Gittens expressed his support for the measure as other senators present did. He pointed to the October mass killing in Maine, where 18 people were gunned down. The perpetrator of that crime had been on law enforcement’s radar as a potential killer, but nothing effective was done about it.
Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory expressed support for the bill but also had concerns about it, which was ultimately held in committee. She said the clause that “allows a family or household member, law enforcement officer, healthcare worker, educator or co-worker to intervene and file a court petition” needed to be narrowed.
Sens. Angel Bolques, Diane Capehart, Ray Fonseca, Novelle Francis Jr., Donna Frett-Gregory, Kenneth Gittens, and Milton Potter were in attendance at Wednesday’s hearing.