Red flag law

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  States with red flag laws

A red flag law is a gun violence prevention law that permits police or family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves. A judge makes the determination to issue the order based on statements and actions made by the gun owner in question.[1] After a set time, the guns are returned to the person from whom they were seized unless another court hearing extends the period of confiscation.[2][3]

Such orders are known as "Extreme Risk Protection Orders" (ERPO) in Oregon, Washington, Maryland, and Vermont; as "Risk Protection Orders" in Florida; as "Gun Violence Restraining Orders" in California; as "risk warrants" in Connecticut; and as "Proceedings for the Seizure and Retention of a Firearm" in Indiana.[4]

History and adoption[edit]

In 1999, Connecticut was the first to enact a red flag law,[5] following a rampage shooting at the Connecticut Lottery.[6] It was followed by Indiana (2005), California (2014), Washington (2016), and Oregon (2017).[5] California was the first state to pass a red flag law allowing family members to petition courts to take weapons from persons deemed a threat, after Elliot Rodger committed a mass shooting in Isla Vista, California; the California law also permits law enforcement officials to petition for an order for the removal of guns from an individual for up to twelve months.[6] The California Legislature passed a measure in 2016 to allow high school and college employees, co-workers and mental health professionals to file such petitions, but this legislation was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown.[6]

Before 2018, five states had some version of red flag laws.[7] After the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, that number more than doubled, as more states enacted such laws:[8][9] Florida,[10] Vermont,[11] Maryland,[12] Rhode Island,[13] New Jersey,[14] Delaware,[15] Massachusetts,[16] Illinois,[17] and Washington, D.C.[18] Other state legislatures considered similar legislation.[19][3][20][21] In 2019, New York enacted a red-flag law as part of a broader package of gun-control legislation that overwhelmingly passed the state legislature.[22][23] In addition to allowing police and family members to petition for entry of an extreme risk protection order,[22][23] the law also allows teachers and school administrations to file such petitions, making New York the first state to include such a provision.[24] Colorado passed House Bill 177 law in April 2019.[25] Nevada passed AB291 in June 2019.[26] Hawaii passed a red flag law in late June 2019.[27][28]


A 2016 study published in the journal Law and Contemporary Problems analyzed data from the 762 gun removals under Connecticut's "risk warrant" law from October 1999 through June 2013 and determined that there was "one averted suicide for every ten to eleven gun seizure cases."[29] The researchers concluded that "enacting and implementing laws like Connecticut’s civil risk warrant statute in other states could significantly mitigate the risk posed by that small proportion of legal gun owners who, at times, may pose a significant danger to themselves or others."[29]

A 2018 study published in the journal Psychiatric Services utilized CDC data from all suicides in all 50 states from 1981-2015 to "examine the effects of Connecticut and Indiana's risk-based firearm seizure law on state-level firearm suicide rates."[30] The researchers concluded that "Indiana’s firearm seizure law was associated with a 7.5% reduction in firearm suicides in the ten years following its enactment, an effect specific to suicides with firearms and larger than that seen in any comparison state by chance alone. Enactment of Connecticut's law was associated with a 1.6% reduction in firearm suicides immediately after its passage and a 13.7% reduction in firearm suicides in the post–Virginia Tech period, when enforcement of the law substantially increased." The study also found that "Whereas Indiana demonstrated an aggregate decrease in suicides, Connecticut's estimated reduction in firearm suicides was offset by increased nonfirearm suicides."[30]


In the first four months after Florida's risk protection law took effect, a total of 467 risk protection cases were filed in Florida. Slightly over one-fourth of the cases involved holders of concealed-carry firearm licenses; when an order is granted against a license-holder, the license-holder's license is temporarily suspended.[31]

In California in 2016 and 2017, 189 petitions for gun violence restraining orders were granted. Of these, 12 petitions were filed by family members, while the rest were filed by law enforcement.[32][33]

In Maryland, the courts reviewed 302 petitions for a gun removal order in the first three months of the state's law; the petition was granted in 148 cases (about half the time). About 60% of petitions were filed by family or household members, one petition was filed by a healthcare worker, and the rest were filed by police.[34] In November 2018, a Maryland man was killed by Anne Arundel County police officers serving a removal order after refusing to surrender his firearms; police said that there was a struggle over the gun and a shot was fired before officers fatally shot the man.[35]

In Marion County, Indiana (which contains Indianapolis, and the most of the uses of Indiana's ERPO law), a 2015 study published in the journal Behavioral Sciences & the Law found that seizure petitions were filed in court 404 times between 2006 and 2013, from persons identified at being a risk of suicide (68%), violence (21%), or psychosis (16%). The study found that 28% of firearm-seizure cases involved a domestic dispute and 26% involved intoxication. The study found that "The seized firearms were retained by the court at the initial hearing in 63% of cases; this retention was closely linked to the defendant's failure to appear at the hearing. The court dismissed 29% of cases at the initial hearing, closely linked to the defendant's presence at the hearing. In subsequent hearings of cases not dismissed, the court ordered the destruction of the firearms in 72% of cases, all when the individual did not appear in court, and dismissed 24% of the cases, all when the individual was present at the hearing."[36]

In Connecticut, some 764 "imminent risk" gun seizures were served between October 1999 and July 2013, according to a 2014 study in the Connecticut Law Review.[37] Of gun seizure orders served, 91.5% were directed at men and 8.5% were directed to women, and the average age of the individuals was 47.4 years old.[37] Police reports associated with the Connecticut gun seizures in 1999 to 2013 indicated that at the time of confiscation, about 30% of the subject gun owners "showed evidence of alcohol consumption" and about 10% "indicated using prescribed pain medications."[37] At the time the warrants were served, the majority of gun owners (60% of men and 80% of women) were sent to a local hospital emergency department for an emergency evaluation; a minority (20%) were arrested.[37] The study noted that "In over 70% of the cases, the outcome of the hearings was unknown. For the cases with outcomes reported, the judges ruled that the weapons needed to be held by the state 68% of the time. Weapons were returned in only twenty of the reported cases. In fifteen other cases, guns were given to a family member; in thirty cases, the guns were destroyed."[37]

Support and opposition[edit]

An April 2018 poll found that 85% of registered voters support laws that would "allow the police to take guns away from people who have been found by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others" (71% "strongly supported" while 14% "somewhat supported" such laws).[38][39] State-level polling in Colorado and Michigan has shown similar levels of support.[40][41]

Democrats and some Republicans are receptive to this law.[1] Such laws are supported by groups that support gun control, such as Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Everytown for Gun Safety. The latter group conducted a nationwide study showing that the perpetrators of mass shootings showed warning signs before the event 42% of the time.[9]

Opponents of red flag laws argue that such legislation infringes on the constitutional right to bear arms and the right to due process of law, and object to ex parte hearings.[42][43][44] The National Rifle Association (NRA) had previously argued that red flag laws unnecessarily hamper the right to due process of individuals who are restrained by them,[19] and worked to defeat such legislation in Utah and Maryland.[45] In a March 2018 policy reversal, the NRA suggested that it might support such laws, but conditioned any openness to such laws on an extensive list of conditions,[20][45] including a judicial finding by "clear and convincing evidence" that the person poses a significant risk of danger.[45] The NRA did not identify any federal or state red flag laws that it supported,[45] and even after its March 2018 announcement continued to work to defeat or weaken red flag bills introduced in state legislatures.[46] In summer 2018, the NRA mobilized to defeat red-flag legislation proposed in Pennsylvania because it objected to allowing initial hearings ex parte.[46] In Arizona in 2019, the NRA ghostwrote an opinion piece for sheriffs to submit to the local press stating their opposition to the legislation.[47] A 2019 study by gun rights advocate John Lott found red flag laws have no significant effect on murder, suicide, the number of people killed in mass public shootings, robbery, aggravated assault, or burglary.[48]

Some local counties and cities have adopted Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions in opposition to red flag laws.[49][50] As of 2019, some 75 jurisdictions in the US have declared themselves sanctuaries that oppose emergency protection orders and enforcement of gun background checks, at times with assistance from the NRA.[47]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Barbaro, Michael, host. "Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018." The Daily, New York Times. 27 Feb. 2018. New York Times.
  2. ^ O'Sullivan, Joseph (November 14, 2016). "Family tragedy behind Initiative 1491, to get guns from those deemed at extreme risk". The Seattle Times. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
  3. ^ a b Johnson, Kirk (February 23, 2018). "States Mull 'Red Flag' Gun Seizures from People Deemed Dangerous". The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  4. ^ Data behind Extreme Risk Protective Order Policies: A Look at Connecticut's Risk-Warrant Law, Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence (May 2018).
  5. ^ a b Jason Hanna and Laura Ly, After the Parkland massacre, more states consider 'red flag' gun bills, CNN (March 7, 2018).
  6. ^ a b c Foley, Ryan J.; Thompson, Don (February 19, 2018). "Few states let courts take guns from people deemed a threat". Associated Press. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
  7. ^ Bernstein, Lenny (February 16, 2018). "Five states allow guns to be seized before someone can commit violence". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
  8. ^ Nick Wing & Melissa Jeltsen, Wave of 'Red Flag; Gun Laws Shows Power of the Parkland Effect, Huffington Post (June 16, 2018).
  9. ^ a b Michael Livingston, More States Approving 'Red Flag' Laws to Keep Guns Away from People Perceived as Threats, Los Angeles Times (May 14, 2018).
  10. ^ Scherer, Michael (March 7, 2018). "Florida Legislature Backs New Gun Restrictions After Parkland School Shooting". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 4, 2018.
  11. ^ McCullum, April (April 10, 2018). "Gov. Scott Signs Vermont Gun Bills: When New Steps Take Effect". Burlington Free Press. Retrieved July 4, 2018.
  12. ^ Bernfeld, Jeremy (April 24, 2018). "Ban on 'Bump Stocks' Among New Gun Regulations in Maryland". WAMU. Retrieved July 4, 2018.
  13. ^ McGuinness, Dylan (June 1, 2018). "Raimondo Signs 'Red Flag' Bill, Bump Stock Ban Into Law". WPRI-TV. Associated Press. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  14. ^ Wing, Nick (June 13, 2018). "New Jersey's Tough Gun Laws Just Got Even Stronger". Huffington Post. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  15. ^ Goss, Scott (April 24, 2018). "'Red Flag' Gun Bill Passes, Heads to Delaware Governor's Desk". The News Journal. Retrieved May 20, 2018.
  16. ^ Miller, Joshua (July 3, 2018). "People Deemed to Be a Danger Can Lose Gun Rights Under New Law". Boston Globe. Retrieved July 4, 2018.
  17. ^ McCoppin, Robert; Garcia, Monique (July 16, 2018). "Guns Can Be Removed from Those Deemed Dangerous under Law Signed by Rauner; He Also Extends 'Cooling Off' Period to Assault-Style Weapons". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  18. ^ "D.C. Council approves 'red flag' gun seizure law".
  19. ^ a b Fies, Andy (February 16, 2018). "How a temporary restraining order for guns could help stop mass shootings". ABC News.
  20. ^ a b Sean Campbell & Alex Yablon, Red Flag Laws: Where the Bills Stand in Each State, The Trace (March 29, 2018).
  21. ^ Wing, Nick. "Massachusetts Joins Wave Of States Passing 'Red Flag' Gun Laws After Parkland". Huffington Post.
  22. ^ a b Tom Precious, Cuomo signs 'red flag' gun control bill into law, Buffalo News (February 25, 2019).
  23. ^ a b Laura Ly, New York's governor, joined by Nancy Pelosi, signs 'red flag' gun protection law, CNN (February 25, 2019).
  24. ^ Autumn Callan, New York governor signs 'red flag' gun bill into law, Jurist (February 26, 2019).
  25. ^ Axelrod, Tal (2019-04-13). "Colorado governor signs 'red flag' gun bill". TheHill. Retrieved 2019-04-16.
  26. ^ "Nevada Gov. Sisolak signs gun control bill into law". Las Vegas Review-Journal. 2019-06-14. Retrieved 2019-06-16.
  27. ^ "'Red Flag' Gun Law Signed by Hawaii Governor". Retrieved 2019-07-08.
  28. ^ "Measure Status". Retrieved 2019-07-08.
  29. ^ a b Swanson, J. W., Norko, M., Lin, H-J., Alanis-Hirsch, K., Frisman, L., Baranoski, M., Easter, M., Robertson, A. G., Swartz, M., Bonnie, R. J., Implementation and Effectiveness of Connecticut's Risk-Based Gun Removal Law: Does It Prevent Suicides?, 80 Law and Contemporary Problems, pp. 179-208 (August 2016).
  30. ^ a b Kivisto, Aaron J.; Phalen, Peter Lee (2018). "Effects of Risk-Based Firearm Seizure Laws in Connecticut and Indiana on Suicide Rates, 1981-2015". Psychiatric Services (Washington, D.C.). 69 (8): 855–862. doi:10.1176/ ISSN 1557-9700. PMID 29852823.
  31. ^ Katie LaGrone & Matthew Apthorp (July 30, 2018). "More than 450 people in Florida ordered to surrender guns months after new gun law took effect". WFTS.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  32. ^ Melody Gutierrez, Jerry Brown vetoes California bill to expand gun restraining orders, San Francisco Chronicle (September 26, 2018).
  33. ^ Melody Gutierrez, California starts slowly on seizing unstable people's guns, but that could change, San Francisco Chronicle (May 11, 2018).
  34. ^ Ovetta Wiggins, Red-flag law in Maryland led to gun seizures from 148 people in first three months, Washington Post (January 15, 2019).
  35. ^ Colin Campbell (November 5, 2018). "Anne Arundel police say officers fatally shot armed man while serving protective order to remove guns". Baltimore Sun.
  36. ^ George F. Parker, Circumstances and Outcomes of a Firearm Seizure Law: Marion County, Indiana, 2006-2013, 33 Behavioral Sciences & the Law 308 (2015).
  37. ^ a b c d e Michael A. Norko & Madelon Baranoski, "Gun Control Legislation in Connecticut: Effects on Persons with Mental Illness," 6 Connecticut Law Review 1609, 1619 (2014).
  38. ^ Washington Post-ABC News Poll, April 8–11, 2018.
  39. ^ Emily Guskin & Scott Clement, Has Parkland changed Americans' views on guns?, Washington Post (April 20, 2018).
  40. ^ Patrick Center, Poll reveals Michigan voters in favor of "Red Flag" law, WGVY (March 8, 2018).
  41. ^ NEW POLL: Colorado voters overwhelmingly favor a Red Flag Law, Keating Research (May 3, 2018).
  42. ^ José Niño (July 27, 2018). "Red Flag Laws: The Latest Anti-Gun Scheme". Mises Institute.
  43. ^ Michael Hammond (April 19, 2018). "Kafkaesque 'red flag laws' strip gun owners of their constitutional rights". USA Today.
  44. ^ "GOA warns Senators on dangers of Red Flag Laws | Gun Owners of America". Retrieved February 1, 2019.
  45. ^ a b c d Nicole Gaudiano (March 19, 2018). "Under pressure, NRA voices support for gun violence restraining orders". USA Today.
  46. ^ a b Alex Yablo, First, the NRA Watered Down a Red Flag Bill. Then It Mobilized to Kill It., The Trace (July 12, 2018).
  47. ^ a b PENZENSTADLER, NICK (May 20, 2019). "NRA helps sheriffs fight gun laws in Second Amendment 'sanctuaries'". USA TODAY. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  48. ^ Moody, Carlisle E.; Lott, John R. (December 28, 2018). "Do Red Flag Laws Save Lives or Reduce Crime?". Rochester, NY.
  49. ^ Beckman, Abigail. "Counties Declare Second Amendment Sanctuary Status As Legislature Debates Red Flag Bill". Retrieved March 9, 2019.
  50. ^ "Daily Bulletin: Students Prep the Next Round of School Walkouts for Gun Reform". The Trace. Retrieved March 9, 2019.

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