Red Flag laws, which allow authorities to temporarily take away guns from a person who has shown a pattern of violence, are growing in popularity among states. Nine states now have such laws and five of those – Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Rhode Island and Vermont were added after the fatal shooting of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL on Feb. 14. These laws have passed with bipartisan support largely due to investigations revealing that the shooters often showed warning signs that they would commit violence.
The most recent law came in Delaware on April 30 with the signing of the Beau Biden Gun Violence Prevention Act into law. It allows mental health professionals to report potentially dangerous people and have their guns seized through a court order.
“We had meetings where the Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence met with members of the local NRA,” said state Rep. David Bentz. “We sat in a room and talked about the bill. They seemed sincere in their efforts.”
Under red flag laws, guns are taken from a person temporarily; how long the guns are withheld varies from state to state. Such laws in California and Florida, for example, allow firearms to be removed for up to a year.
The laws address a concern from law enforcement — how to take action when a crime has not yet been committed, said William Rosen, deputy legal director for Everytown for Gun Safety. “The red flag law steps into that gap,” he said.
In March, the National Rifle Assn. surprised gun rights advocates and gun-control proponents by expressing support for red flag laws.
“We need to stop dangerous people before they act. So, Congress should provide funding for states to adapt risk protection orders,” said Chris Cox, executive director for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.
A nationwide study by Everytown for Gun Safety showed that 42% of the time, the suspect in mass shootings showed warning signs prior to the incident.
Proponents of red flag laws note that before a court order can be executed, there must be evidence of a history of violence, or documented threats of committing harm to themselves or others.
Red flag laws ask the court to consider, among other things, a person’s documented history of violence or attempted violence, unlawful use of controlled substances or deadly weapons and recent purchases of deadly weapons.
After a person’s guns are taken, he or she has time to have the order rescinded. Each state allows a window for the petitioner to have a court date and argue for their guns back.
Mental health professionals believe red flag laws balance public safety with personal rights by focusing on behavior, not mental health diagnosis.
“With any kind of public policy, there has to be a balance,” said Kristin Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “These [red flag] laws strike that right balance.”
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