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People who knew the gunman who killed nine people in a rampage this weekend in Dayton, Ohio, say signs of violence were already lurking inside him. In high school, he reportedly kept a “hit list” and “rape list.” Writing the names of the people he allegedly wanted to murder on a school bathroom wall got him suspended from school, the Dayton Daily News reported.
But neither Ohio nor Texas, where 22 people died after a separate shooting in an El Paso Walmart Saturday, have what are known as “red flag” laws, which essentially allow police or relatives to ask a court to temporarily confiscate guns from people who may be dangerous to themselves or others. The shooters in both massacres, police have said, appear to have obtained their guns legally.
Only Ohio, however, appears to be moving closer to considering an “extreme risk protection order” law, as red flag laws are sometimes known. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who first brought up his support for the legislation during his campaign, recently floated the idea again, following a shooting at a California synagogue that left one dead and three wounded.
"I’ve challenged our team to come back with something in the area of red flag legislation that can pass,” DeWine told reporters in April. “We need to have something that can actually pass, so that’s certainly something that’s part of the criteria.”
Since April, though, no red flag bill has materialized.
On Sunday, the same day vigil attendees confronted him and shouted at him to “do something,” DeWine declined to get into specifics about his plans for gun policy reform. Instead, he plans to hold a press conference to address gun violence and mental health issues Tuesday.
Despite DeWine’s party affiliation, he hasn’t always been in exact lockstep with the National Rifle Association (NRA). During his tenure as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, between 1995 and 2007, the NRA repeatedly handed him poor ratings: In 2000, DeWine scored a 46%; in 2006, 8%; and in 2010, an “F,” PolitiFact found.
Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, also a Republican, complained on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday show that he had been unable to pass a red flag law during his time in office — a surprising lament, given that Kasich was once known for signing every gun bill that crossed his desk.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who has a perfect score from the NRA, also said last year that he’s interested in exploring the idea of red flag legislation. In a school safety plan issued shortly after a Houston-area high school student killed at least 10 people in a shooting, Abbott asked Texas’ state House and Senate to examine the possibility of such a law. (His office didn’t immediately reply to a VICE News request for comment about whether Abbott was still interested in exploring red flag laws.)
Instead, the Texas Legislature has pushed multiple measures to loosen gun restrictions this year — including a law that allows handgun owners to carry their firearms in churches and other places of worship, which passed after the Sutherland Springs shooting that left 26 churchgoers dead. While handguns were once uniformly banned in religious establishments, these places must now provide oral or written guidance banning firearms from their property.
The Texas state Legislature is scheduled to start its next session in 2021.
“Helping someone in need”
Ohio isn’t the only state to get interested in red flag laws: A month after 17 people died in the 2018 Parkland, Florida, shooting, just five states had such laws. Now, 17 states and Washington, D.C., have similar laws on the books, though the details of how the process works vary from state to state, according to Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
In a press conference Monday, President Donald Trump voiced his support for more states to pass red flag laws.
“We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms, and that, if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process,” Trump said in remarks Monday. Trump first backed these laws after the Parkland shooting. “That is why I have called for red flag laws.”
The NRA does not support a federal red flag law. The group has said it would only support state versions that include criminal penalties for people who bring “false or frivolous charges,” are set by a judge only after “clear and convincing evidence” is presented, and allow the target of the protective order to offer evidence on their own behalf and to challenge the order. If an order is granted at all, the NRA says, the target must undergo mental health treatment.
“I don’t know of a version that has been passed that is good or that works,” said Jim Irvine, board president of Buckeye Firearms Association. “What is done with these red flags [laws] is the conscious decision to ignore a mental health problem, instead of treat a mental health problem.”
“They’re focusing on an inanimate object. They’re focusing on seizing someone’s property instead of helping someone in need,” Irvine added.
Many of the red flag laws are too new to be studied. But Indiana and Connecticut, two states with long-standing red flag laws on the books, have seen double-digit drops in firearm-related suicides — which make up the bulk of gun deaths — within a decade-long period.
Cover image: An item is left at a candlelight vigil held at the Ohio Statehouse Sunday evening, Aug. 4, 2019, in Columbus following mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. (Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)