It is an emerging approach to gun violence that is popular because it is proactive rather than reactive. And it’s significant that 10 Republican senators, along with 10 Democrats, signed a statement saying they’re on board to move these laws forward at the state level: “Our plan is saving lives while protecting the constitutional rights of Law-abiding Americans.
Here’s what to know about red flag laws, how they work, and the political and legal debates surrounding them.
Red flag laws allow police, family members or even doctors to ask a court to remove someone’s firearms for up to a year if they believe that person poses a threat for themselves or for others. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia — including two Republican-controlled states, Florida and Indiana — have some form of this law on the books.
This contrasts with federal law and the laws of most other states that require a person to have been convicted of a felony, committed to a mental institution, or subject to a domestic violence protection order. before you can lose your right to a firearm, even temporarily.
Under red flag laws, you don’t need to have a criminal record or a history of mental illness to temporarily lose your gun. If a judge is convinced by an argument that you are a danger to yourself or others, the police can confiscate your weapons for days, weeks, months or a year.
You’ll also hear these laws referred to as “extreme risk protection orders” — a term that gun policy experts favor because it doesn’t carry the stigma for those who receive a petition.
State implementation of these laws varies widely. Florida’s version is relatively narrow, only allowing law enforcement to ask the courts to remove someone’s guns. Maryland and DC allow mental health providers to petition. New York allows school officials and Hawaii allows colleagues.
The consensus is that they seem to work when properly applied – although that’s hard to prove, as the absence of gun violence is the measure. A study of the California law after it was enacted in 2016 found at least 21 cases in which a gun was taken away from someone threatening a mass shooting. Most were white men and most had made explicit threats.
In a state with an entirely different political culture, Florida, judges have used a red flag law to act more than 8,000 times over the past four years to temporarily take people’s guns away, CNN recently reported: of the last two months only, [federal judge Denise Pomponio] revoked gun privileges from dozens of people,” including a father who allegedly threatened to “shoot everyone” at his son’s school and a woman who police say attempted suicide .
An FBI study cited by the gun advocacy group Giffords found that the average shooter displays several concerning behaviors and experiences, including coping with multiple stressors in the year before the attack, take about a week to prepare for the onslaught, troubling personal issues. interactions or sharing their violent intent with someone.
Gun policy experts also praise red flag laws for another reason: suicide prevention. Without such laws, a parent, spouse, or other relative has little recourse to prevent the violence they fear is imminent, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: “State laws often do not provide a clear legal framework. power to restrict access to firearms before a tragedy occurs.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens, and Johns Hopkins researchers say red flag laws can lead to “young people not having easy access to guns when they are most at risk.” risk”.
“You very regularly see the types of behaviors, patterns and expressions of hurt that I think most reasonable people would agree with, my God, there’s something going on with this person right now, and it’s not just isn’t a good idea for them to have access to a gun,” Shannon Frattaroli, a professor at Johns Hopkins who studies and advocates for these laws, told Axios.
The argument against these laws
Gun advocacy groups — from the National Rifle Association (NRA) down — generally oppose these laws. Their main argument is that they violate an individual’s ‘due process’, as often the original petition does not require the person to be present in court. Family members or police used texts, voicemails or notebooks belonging to the gun owner to plead their case.
“Due process is a serious concern, making sure people have the opportunity to be heard,” said Jake Charles, executive director of the Center for Firearms Law at Duke University.
But he said these laws mimic child custody cases, in which an emergency hearing can be held if someone is in imminent danger, then another hearing can be held later to work out the details: ” It’s all in what the Supreme Court has established is someone’s due process,” Charles said.
Officials need to detect concerning behavior and act on it to make the laws work. New York has a red flag law, but the suspected Buffalo shooter, then 17, was called by police because he made threatening statements at school – and his gun didn’t was not taken away, because the police did not ask the court for this. After the Buffalo shooting, Democrats in the state quickly passed an expanded red flag law that will also allow mental health professionals to go to court and compel social media companies to report credible threats of violence.
Why Some Republicans Support Red Flag Laws
In 2018, Florida Republicans were at the forefront after a Parkland high school massacre. The warning signs were so obvious – the shooter had been the subject of dozens of 911 calls before carrying out the attack – that lawmakers felt they had to act.
“I knew the time for thoughts and prayers, while necessary, was not enough,” Bill Galvano (R), the Florida lawmaker who introduced the legislation after visiting the devastated high school, told CNN.
Additionally, some gun rights groups support these laws because they do not target all gun owners (through, for example, thorough background checks) and instead let the government intervene in potentially dangerous situations. dangerous.
A conservative Florida sheriff, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, also defended the law to CNN as a “cooling off period” rather than a Second Amendment violation.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who was governor at the time, signed the Red Flag Act and other gun control measures into law, despite objections from the NRA.
Today, no Republican – even Scott – is suggesting implementing this at the federal level. But they agree to push the States towards this kind of laws, with subsidies. Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced a bill to do just that, and a bipartisan group in the Senate appears to have found 10 Republican senators to support that, among other narrow measures. Their approval, plus that of the 48 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats, would be enough to overcome a filibuster from conservative senators.