Red flag law
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. 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.
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.
History and adoption
In 1999, Connecticut was the first to enact a red flag law, following a rampage shooting at the Connecticut Lottery. It was followed by Indiana (2005), California (2014), Washington (2016), and Oregon (2017). California was the first state to pass a red flag law 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. 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.
Before 2018, five states had some version of red flag laws. After the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, that number more than doubled, as more states enacted such laws: Florida, Vermont, Maryland, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Illinois. Other state legislatures considered similar legislation.
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." 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."
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." 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."
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.
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.
In November 2018, a Maryland man was killed by Anne Arundel County police officers serving a "red flag" gun 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.
Support and opposition
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). State-level polling in Colorado and Michigan has shown similar levels of support.
Democrats and some Republicans are receptive to this law. 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.
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, and worked to defeat such legislation in Utah and Maryland. 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, including a judicial finding by "clear and convincing evidence" that the person poses a significant risk of danger. The NRA did not identify any federal or state red flag laws that it supported, and even after its March 2018 announcement continued to work to defeat or weaken red flag bills introduced in state legislatures. In summer 2018, the NRA mobilized to defeat red-flag legislation proposed in Pennsylvania because it objected to allowing initial hearings ex parte.
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- Melody Gutierrez, Jerry Brown vetoes California bill to expand gun restraining orders, San Francisco Chronicle (September 26, 2018).
- Melody Gutierrez, California starts slowly on seizing unstable people's guns, but that could change, San Francisco Chronicle (May 11, 2018).
- Colin Campbell (November 5, 2018). "Anne Arundel police say officers fatally shot armed man while serving protective order to remove guns". Baltimore Sun.
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- NEW POLL: Colorado voters overwhelmingly favor a Red Flag Law, Keating Research (May 3, 2018).
- Nicole Gaudiano (March 19, 2018). "Under pressure, NRA voices support for gun violence restraining orders". USA Today.
- Alex Yablo, First, the NRA Watered Down a Red Flag Bill. Then It Mobilized to Kill It., The Trace (July 12, 2018).
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