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Improved Gun Safety Starts With Red Flag Laws

It is extremely difficult for disparate parties to find agreement on gun control. However, if there is one fundamental belief common to all sides it is that individuals intent on hurting themselves or others should not have access to guns.

That is easier said than done, both practically and legally, but “red flag” laws are one tool that communities can use to defuse threats.   At least 19 states and Washington, D.C. have laws that allow family members, the police, or in some cases a school official or employer, to go to court to secure an emergency order to have weapons removed from an individual.

Perhaps nowhere in the country has the law been used more than Suffolk County, New York.  The New York Times reports judges have issued at least 117 final orders, the highest rate among the most populous counties in the state.

“The filings are filled with people threatening to shoot up courthouses or schoolhouses, amped-up men in cars with weapons and ammunition, people behaving erratically at a gun shop or military-base checkpoint or firing randomly into a neighbor’s yard,” the paper reported.  Eleven of the red flag orders have involved threats to schools.

But, as the Times reported, the most common red flag alert has been to deter a suicide. That is also the case in Florida. That state passed a red flag law after the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and it has been used more than any other state.

“There’s no question that it has prevented harm, no doubt in my mind,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told the News Service of Florida.

Red flag laws have found support across the political spectrum. David French, senior editor of the conservative publication The Dispatch, is a strong advocate. “A majority of these mass shooters actually leak or broadcast or advertise their intention in some way to commit murder,” he told NPR “And so red flag laws are designed to deal with this situation where someone is sort of radiating this threat to the rest of the community.”

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin has also expressed his support for red flag laws. “We know that the red flag laws do work as long as (there is) due process,” he said.

Opponents often raise 2nd Amendment and due process questions  How can you take a gun away from someone before they have acted illegally and without a hearing?  So far, those arguments have not swayed the courts, which have found there are extraordinary circumstances that allow the government to act before adjudication.

One of the most often cited examples is domestic violence cases where, in an emergency, a judge may grant a temporary restraining order prior to a full hearing to safeguard the victim.

Red flag laws are not a panacea because there’s no one course correction to prevent all gun violence or mass shootings. However, these laws at least create an opportunity for keeping guns out of the hands of individuals who are signaling bad intent.

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