‘Red flag’ laws can help reduce gun violence, if used more widely: experts

As gun violence in the United States continues to claim lives, lawmakers are pushing states to implement “red flag” laws, which allow law enforcement or family members to petition a court civilian to temporarily remove weapons from a person who poses a risk to themselves or others.

Nineteen states currently have “red flag” laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders, on the books. Recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York; Uvalde, Texas; and Highland Parks, Illinois, have renewed calls for the government to enact these types of gun laws.

Last month, President Joe Biden signed into law a bipartisan gun bill that included $750 million in funding to help states implement “red flag” laws and other prevention programs. violence.

The bill also improved background checks for people under 21 and ended a so-called ‘boyfriend loophole’, barring people in serious romantic relationships who have been convicted of violence. servant to be able to buy a firearm.

Experts tell ABC News that when used more frequently, “red flag” laws could be effective.

A police officer walks down Central Avenue in Highland Park, July 4, 2022, after a gunman fired into the northern suburbs July 4 parade.

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“There are many documented cases of the use of red flag laws in circumstances and when people are threatening or saying they are going to carry out mass shootings. And they use the order, they pull out guns, and there are no documented cases. [that] this person, for example, found another gun or just walked away and did it anyway,” Daniel Webster, director of the Gun Policy and Research Center at Johns Hopkins University, told ABC News in a statement. interview.

He added: “I wouldn’t necessarily call it ironclad, certain proof. But it is certainly compelling proof that the laws are being used as intended to prevent these things.”

According to Webster, “red flag” laws are modeled after domestic violence restraining orders, making them a quick response, allowing judges to act immediately. The procedures provide due process for those whose weapons are taken away by giving them the opportunity to appear in court and present evidence as to why they should keep their weapons.

Webster also said there is evidence these laws reduce the risk of suicide, which is the most common reason these orders are issued.

However, this tool is entirely dependent on a good system response when there is evidence that someone might be a danger, Webster said.

Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychology and behavioral studies affiliated with the Center for Firearms Law at Duke University, told ABC News that these laws are not implemented on a large enough scale to determine whether they are effective.

“If no one knows, it’s not used, it’s not scaled, the police don’t have experience using it or aren’t used to it, [or] you don’t have the infrastructure or the protocols in mind for it to become routine, you can’t expect it to do any good,” Swanson said.

Swanson said that was the case in Connecticut where a “red flag” law was passed in 1999 but wasn’t used often until about 2008. The researchers found that when used in the state, these laws were “modestly” effective in preventing suicides.

“For 10 to 20 of these firearm removal actions, a life was saved,” said study co-author Swanson.

PHOTO: Shana Gutman and her mother Eadie Bear, longtime residents of Highland Park, Illinois, watch the scene on Central Avenue, July 5, 2022, the day after a mass shooting during the July 4 parade.

Shana Gutman and her mother Eadie Bear, longtime residents of Highland Park, Illinois, watch the scene on Central Avenue, July 5, 2022, the day after a mass shooting during the July 4 parade. They said they frequently attend the parade, but did not this year.

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After the July 4 shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, police said they deemed the suspect, Robert Crimo III, a “clear and present danger” after a family member revealed that he had threatened to “kill everyone”, according to police records.

Police had also visited the suspect’s home on several occasions before the shooting, including in September 2019 when Highland Park police removed a 24-inch samurai blade, a box containing a 12-inch dagger and 16 knives hand from Crimo’s house that day. , according to an incident report.

However, when he made the threats, the suspect did not possess a firearm. So when the state police couldn’t find a gun license for Crimo in their system, no action was taken. Later that year, the suspect’s father signed an affidavit allowing him to obtain a firearms license.

Although Illinois has a “red flag” law in place, Webster said the state law does not enforce a “prospective” approach that would have prevented Crimo from obtaining firearms in the months that followed. followed the threats. Webster said it’s worth considering barring people who pose a threat from being able to get guns for a certain amount of time.

“To me that seems very reasonable, because you use the same logic to disarm someone once they already have a gun,” he said. “But, you’re not using it to prevent acquisition. So that’s, that’s the missing piece here.”

According to Webster, factors to consider when determining whether someone poses a “clear and present danger” to those around them include whether they have a history of violent behavior and what evidence exists that they might commit a shooting (such as their l search history or things they got like a bulletproof vest).

Whether the individual displayed behavioral cues common to mass shooters should also be considered, he added.