Red Flag Laws, Allowing Gun Seizures, Receive Renewed Attention in the Wake of the Parkland Shooting


Renewed calls have been made for the Florida state legislature to pass a “red flag” law in the wake of the deadly Parkland school shooting that left seventeen dead and wounded fourteen others last week.  Red Flag laws allow family members, guardians or the police to ask judges to strip gun rights from people showing warning signs of violence.  They also allow law enforcement to seize any firearms any individual may already own.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has vowed to make it harder for people with mental illness to have access to guns, although no specific measures have been discussed.  Republican Florida Senator, and former presidential candidate, Marco Rubio, has expressed a willingness to explore red flag laws, saying such measures should “absolutely” be considered.  It’s an “example of a state law” that could have prevented the Florida shooting, he said.

California became the first to state to pass a red flag, or gun-violence restraining legislation, in 2014 in the wake of a shooting that killed six students and wounded thirteen others near the University of California, Santa Barbara.  The assailant, Elliot Rodger, was mentally ill, and killed himself during the attack.  The California State Legislature took action on the law soon thereafter.

Five other states, Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon and Washington have some version of red flag laws on their books, and thirteen others, including Hawaii, New Jersey and Missouri, are considering similar bills.

Many gun-rights advocates oppose red-flag laws however, saying they are vulnerable to abuse.  The NRA has said that such laws allow courts to remove an individual’s constitutional right to own a firearm based on allegations and evidentiary standards that are lower than what is required in, say, a criminal proceeding.

But supporters say red-flag laws act as a kind of gun-related timeout, so that someone showing signs of mental distress can get the help they need while providing a level of safety to the individuals closest to that person.

A study published last year by researchers at Duke, Yale, Connecticut and Virginia, contends that roughly one suicide is prevented for every ten gun seizures executed.  The laws the study said, “significantly mitigate the risk” posed by a small number of legal firearms owners who may pose a risk.


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