Could Florida’s mass shooting, which killed 17 people, have been prevented if Florida had a law allowing authorities to confiscate weapons from people considered imminent threats? Several other states have such a law on the books, and even Florida’s Republican Senator and staunch 2nd Amendment advocate Marco Rubio now supports such laws.
A bill in Congress would incentivize more states to join their ranks.
The perpetrator of February’s Florida high school mass shooting was repeatedly reported to law enforcement authorities prior to the massacre. Florida does not have a “red flag” law, which allows law enforcement to legally seize weapons belong to an individual who has been deemed an imminent threat to others.
Several states do have such a law, starting with Connecticut in 1999. Four other states additionally passed such laws: Washington, Oregon, Indiana and California. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order implementing a similar measure last week.
What the bill does
The federal legislation, called the Gun Violence Restraining Order Act in the House and the similarly-named Gun Violence Prevention Order Act in the Senate, would give federal grants to states which implement “red flag” laws.
The seizures could potentially be initiated if either a person’s family or other law enforcement figures believe an individual is a threat to others. (Although even some supporters acknowledge that legal loopholes may allow even a person who has had their weapons seized to simply buy another weapon.)
The bills were both introduced in May 2017 by Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA24) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), though they’ve only really only gained traction in recent days.
What supporters say
Supporters argue the bill would cut gun violence and mass shootings, when three of America’s 10 deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past six months alone. They also say that it’s an effective but light approach by the federal government, since it offers incentives for states without explicitly running afoul of the Second Amendment on a federal level.
“While the troubling details of the shooting in Florida are still emerging, it is clear this horrific act of violence was perpetrated by an individual in crisis,” House lead sponsor Carbajal said in a press release. “I lost my older sister to suicide with a firearm at a young age.”
“What I’ve learned since, is that temporarily preventing people from having a gun while in a state of crisis saves lives. No parent should send their children to school each day wondering if they will return home,” Carbajal continued. “We are once again reminded that we have a responsibility to act in Congress to change things. We owe these families more than just our thoughts and prayers.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that the bills would strip people of their due process rights, and arguably violate the Second Amendment.
“By allowing a law enforcement officer, family member, or household member to seek the ERPO [Extreme Risk Protection Order], [red flag laws] will allow people who are not mental health professionals, who may be mistaken, and who may only have minimal contact with the respondent to file a petition with the court and testify on the respondent’s state of mind,” the NRA Institute for Legislative Action said in a press release.
“This ex parte order, which strips the accused of their Second Amendment rights, will be issued by a judge based on the brief statement of the petitioner,” the NRA continued. “The accused will not be afforded the chance to appear in court to defend themselves against the allegations when the ERPO is issued. These orders may be issued without any allegations of criminal behavior.”
Odds of passage
The bill has attracted 60 House cosponsors and four Senate cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits possible votes in the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. But Republicans control Congress, and Speaker Paul Ryan has made it clear that House action on any gun control is unlikely.
While President Trump has gained headlines for indicating that he could support some gun control measures, so far that seems limited to asking the Department of Justice to explore maybe banning bump stocks — which convert semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic ones, as was used in 2017’s mass shooting at a Nevada country music concert. On Wednesday of last week, the President did say he supported taking away guns first and having due process second which may have been a supportive reference to red flag laws, even if expressed in exactly the terms the NRA uses to oppose such laws.