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After Parkland, Florida Police Use 'Red Flag’ Law To Remove Guns From People Deemed A Threat

Credit: Wikipedia Commons
Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Florida is one of nine states to pass “red flag” laws which are designed to make it easier for law enforcement to take guns away from people who are deemed unfit to own a firearm. WLRN reporter Daniel Rivero talks to Intersection about how South Florida police have used the law, passed after last year's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

In addition to Florida, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Vermont, Maryland, Massachusetts, Delaware and Rhode Island have all passed different versions of “red flag” laws.

Rivero, who covers criminal justice issues for WLRN, said his reporting has shown him that some local police are taking the new laws seriously. In Broward County, where Douglas is located, the police department established a separate unit dedicated to fielding public threats of violence called the Threat Management Section. Officers are able to issue risk protection orders to restrict a person’s access to firearms for up to one year if they are deemed a threat.

“Since this law passed in March, according to the state records I have, 937 of these orders have been granted by courts across the states,” Rivero said.

Gun-owners who are issued these orders are permitted to plead their case in front of a judge, after which it is decided if the order will be extended or discontinued.

“There is an element of due process for this which is very important for gun rights,” Rivero said. “The right to own a firearm is a fundamental civil right in the United States. You can’t just take someone’s guns and not have due process. So what this law did is it created the process.”

Before “red flag” laws, the process for police to withhold firearms for up to a year from someone who’d made threats of violence was nonexistent. For many members of law enforcement, these new laws are long overdue, Rivero said.

“What I’ve heard from police and also just people that work within the court system is that this was dramatically needed,” he said.

Rivero said gun rights advocates in Florida have remained quiet about “red flag” laws in the state. While the National Rifle Association has challenged the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, the organization has instead been vocal in pushing back against the part of the bill that raises the firearm purchasing age from 18 to 21.

With “red flag” laws gaining prominence, police are working to take into account all of the factors affecting people accused of threatening violence, including mental health.

“From what I’ve heard from police officers, they’re trying to take a holistic approach to this,” Rivero said. “You can’t just arrest your way out of troubled people.”