Gun-seizure laws grow in pop­u­lar­ity since last year’s school shoot­ing in Florida

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ryan J. Fo­ley

In the year since the deadly mass shoot­ing at a Florida high school, more and more states have passed laws mak­ing it eas­ier to take guns away from peo­ple who may be sui­ci­dal or bent on vi­o­lence against oth­ers, and courts are is­su­ing an un­prece­dented num­ber of seizure or­ders across the coun­try.

Sup­port­ers say these “red flag” laws are among the most promis­ing tools to re­duce the nearly 40,000 sui­cides and homi­cides by firearm each year in the U.S. Gun ad­vo­cates, though, say such mea­sures un­der­mine their con­sti­tu­tional rights and can re­sult in peo­ple be­ing stripped of their weapons on false or vin­dic­tive ac­cu­sa­tions.

Nine states have passed laws over the past year al­low­ing po­lice or house­hold mem­bers to seek court or­ders re­quir­ing peo­ple deemed threat­en­ing to tem­po­rar­ily sur­ren­der their guns, bring­ing the to­tal to 14. Sev­eral more are likely to fol­low in the months ahead.

More than 1,700 or­ders al­low­ing guns to be seized for weeks, months or up to a

year were is­sued in 2018 by the courts af­ter they de­ter­mined the in­di­vid­u­als were a threat to them­selves or oth­ers, ac­cord­ing to data from sev­eral states ob­tained by The As­so­ci­ated Press. The ac­tual num­ber is prob­a­bly much higher since the data was in­com­plete and didn’t in­clude Cal­i­for­nia.

The laws gained mo­men­tum af­ter it was learned that the young man ac­cused in the Florida at­tack, Niko­las Cruz, was widely known to be men­tally trou­bled yet had ac­cess to weapons, in­clud­ing the as­sault-style ri­fle used to kill 17 stu­dents and staff mem­bers last Valen­tine’s Day at Park­land’s Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School.

“Park­land would never have hap­pened if Florida had a red flag law,” Linda Beigel Schul­man said dur­ing a re­cent news con­fer­ence with New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo, who is ex­pected to sign his state’s new law any day. Her son, Scott Beigel, was a teacher and coach killed dur­ing the Park­land at­tack.

Florida passed a red flag law as part of a gun-con­trol pack­age in the wake of the shoot­ing. Since then, Delaware, Illi­nois, Mary­land, Mas­sachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Is­land and Ver­mont have adopted vari­a­tions. Cal­i­for­nia, Con­necti­cut, In­di­ana, Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton al­ready had sim­i­lar laws.

Sev­eral states are debating them this year, in­clud­ing New Mex­ico, where two stu­dents were killed in a school shoot­ing in De­cem­ber 2017.

Mike Heal, po­lice chief in the town of Aztec, re­sponded to the shoot­ing at the lo­cal high school and tes­ti­fied in sup­port of the red flag pro­posal, say­ing, “I know I can­not keep ev­ery­one safe, but give me the tools to try.”

The laws are be­ing in­voked fre­quently in many of the states that have them.

Au­thor­i­ties in Mary­land granted more than 300 pe­ti­tions to tem­po­rar­ily dis­arm in­di­vid­u­als in the three months af­ter the state’s law went into ef­fect Oct. 1. Mont­gomery County Sher­iff Dar­ren Pop­kin said the cases in­cluded four “sig­nif­i­cant” threats of school shoot­ings, and that a ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple who were sub­jects of the or­ders were suf­fer­ing from men­tal health crises.

“These or­ders are not only be­ing is­sued ap­pro­pri­ately, they are sav­ing lives,” Pop­kin told law­mak­ers last month.

In Ver­mont, a prose­cu­tor ob­tained an or­der to strip gun rights from a teenager re­leased from jail af­ter be­ing ac­cused of plot­ting a school shoot­ing.

Florida courts granted more than 1,000 or­ders in the first nine months of its new law. Broward County, which in­cludes Park­land, has been at the fore­front, ac­count­ing for roughly 15 per­cent of cases statewide.

Among the first peo­ple sub­jected to the law was Cruz’s younger brother, who au­thor­i­ties said was show­ing signs of vi­o­lence af­ter al­legedly tres­pass­ing at the high school af­ter the shoot­ing. In an­other case, Florida au­thor­i­ties took dozens of firearms from a bailiff ac­cused of threat­en­ing other court­house em­ploy­ees.

Con­necti­cut has the na­tion’s long­est-stand­ing red flag law, which went into ef­fect in 1999 af­ter a mass shoot­ing at the state lot­tery of­fice. Au­thor­i­ties there say new aware­ness of the law con­trib­uted to a spike in 2018 in war­rants is­sued to take away weapons — 268, the high­est to­tal on record, ac­cord­ing to court data.

The rise re­flects the more ag­gres­sive pos­ture po­lice have adopted since the 2012 mass shoot­ing at Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School in New­town and other at­tacks.

One study found that the Con­necti­cut law re­duced gun sui­cides by more than 10 per­cent in re­cent years and that a sim­i­lar law in In­di­ana led to a 7.5 per­cent drop.

“It re­ally gives us a unique op­por­tu­nity as pros­e­cu­tors to come in be­fore the vi­o­lence has oc­curred. Of­ten we are tack­ling it on the other side,” said Kim­berly Wy­att, a prose­cu­tor in King County, Wash­ing­ton, who has been seek­ing one or two such or­ders per week in and around Seat­tle.

She said au­thor­i­ties use the best avail­able re­search and their judg­ment, look­ing at whether a per­son has talked about sui­cide, threat­ened oth­ers, stalked some­one or shown signs of a men­tal health cri­sis.

Gun-rights ad­vo­cates ar­gue that the laws can be used un­fairly based on un­proven ac­cu­sa­tions.

“In to­day’s so­ci­ety, the po­lice are go­ing to err on the side of cau­tion. The thresh­old for is­su­ing these types of war­rants has been low­ered,” lamented Scott Wil­son Sr., pres­i­dent of the Con­necti­cut Cit­i­zens De­fense League.

De­bates in state leg­is­la­tures of­ten turn on how much due process gun own­ers should re­ceive and who can pe­ti­tion for the or­ders. In some states, only po­lice can file the pe­ti­tions. Other states al­low mem­bers of the per­son’s house­hold, rel­a­tives, school of­fi­cials, em­ploy­ers and health care providers to do so.

Most states al­low for tem­po­rary or­ders that are is­sued for days or weeks. Judges then hold hear­ings to de­cide whether to ex­tend them for up to one year.

Dur­ing the de­bate in New Mex­ico, Army veteran Rico Giron tes­ti­fied that peo­ple could see their guns seized over grudges be­tween fam­ily mem­bers or neigh­bors.

“It’s in­cred­i­bly dan­ger­ous be­cause it opens the door for vin­dic­tive­ness and re­venge,” Giron said.

The bill’s spon­sor, Demo­cratic Rep. Day­mon Ely, said he wants par­ents to have an­other op­tion if they have a child suf­fer­ing from men­tal ill­ness.

“The state has an obli­ga­tion to say, ‘Yes, there is some­thing we can do for you,’” Ely said.


Linda Beigel Schul­man, left, holds a pho­to­graph of her son Scott Beigel, who was killed dur­ing the Valen­tine’s Day mas­sacre at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School, while speak­ing with New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo and gun safety ad­vo­cates dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Jan. 29 at the state Capi­tol in Al­bany, N.Y. Since the shoot­ing, states have seen a surge of in­ter­est in laws in­tended to make it eas­ier to dis­arm peo­ple who show signs of be­ing vi­o­lent or sui­ci­dal.


High school stu­dent Sophia Lussiez, 17, of Santa Fe, N.M., se­cond from right, tes­ti­fies Feb. 4 in sup­port of pro­pos­als for new gun safety reg­u­la­tions in the state, in Santa Fe, N.M. The New Mex­ico Leg­is­la­ture is con­sid­er­ing a bill that would tem­po­rar­ily re­strict firearms ac­cess for peo­ple con­sid­ered to be at risk to them­selves or oth­ers. Var­i­ous states are con­sid­er­ing sim­i­lar reg­u­la­tions since last year’s mass shoot­ing at a Florida high school.


Demo­cratic state Rep. Day­mon Ely of Cor­rales, N.M., left, ex­plains pro­vi­sions of a bill he spon­sored with Rep. Joy Gar­ratt of Al­bu­querque, cen­ter, that would al­low po­lice or fam­ily mem­bers to seek court or­ders re­quir­ing peo­ple who are deemed threat­en­ing to sur­ren­der their guns, in Santa Fe, N.M., on Feb. 4.

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