With lawmakers seeking measures to prevent future mass shootings in the wake of the Parkland massacre, a bipartisan coalition from 30 states are rolling out “red flag” legislation that makes it harder for domestic abusers or anyone exhibiting troubling or violent behavior to keep or purchase guns.
According to the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety, in 42 percent of mass shootings from January 2009 to December 2016, the shooter exhibited warning signs, like acts, attempted acts or threats of violence towards oneself, violations of protective orders or ongoing substance abuse. Former domestic abuse, for example, was a common denominator of the church shooter in Sutherland Springs, Texas; the shooter in Las Vegas; and the 19-year-old student who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school in Parkland, Florida, two weeks ago.
The 30 states would join another five — California, Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon, and Washington — that already have red flag laws, which allow concerned family members or law enforcement to act on the warning signs and get a type of temporary restraining order. (Connecticut was the first, in 1999, Indiana was second in 2005, and the other three passed their laws in the last four years.)
Also called the “Extreme Risk Protection Order,” the law establishes a process by which family members, household members, or law enforcement can petition a judge for a gun violence restraining order against a particular individual. The specific details of the bills vary from state to state. But broadly, the law would allow for a temporary seizure (a few weeks), after which a judge decides whether the gun owner’s behavior warrants a longer-term ban on the weapons.
If Florida had had a “Red Flag” law in place, the Parkland shooter, who’d killed squirrels with a pellet gun, bragged about his guns on social media, and worried his adoptive mother so much that she had to call the cops on him dozens of times, might have had his guns confiscated before it was too late.
According to New York State Sen. Brian Kavanagh, if all 30 states passed the bills, 83 percent of America would be protected by these laws.
The states aiming to pass the legislation are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
“The gun industry and its allies in Washington have long blocked federal laws to prevent gun violence, but state lawmakers across the country are stepping up with legislation that can save lives,” Kavanagh said in a statement. “And we won’t back down.”
The legislation falls into the category of what’s known as “common-sense gun laws,” and has garnered support from surprising places. “Indiana’s ‘Red Flag Law’ is a common-sense measure that in no way inhibits the Second Amendment Rights of law-abiding citizens,” said Curtis T. Hill Jr., the state’s Republican attorney general, in a recent statement. “This useful provision is not as well-known, even among law enforcement, as one might expect. That’s why this week we are distributing a public safety advisory raising awareness of the law and urging police and prosecutors to make full use of it as we work together to protect all Hoosiers.”
The law also has the potential to reduce hundreds of suicide deaths each year. According to Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, nearly two-thirds of the 93 deaths by gun violence every day are suicides.
A study by Duke University found that Connecticut’s so-called “Red Flag Law,” enacted in 1999, had been effective in reducing the number of suicides. Between 1999 and 2014, police served 762 risk warrants, and estimated that a gun suicide was prevented by every 10 to 20 seizures.