As Shootings and Gun Deaths Rise, Red Flag Laws Aren’t Used

An Associated Press analysis found that despite a rise in shootings and gun deaths, many states rarely use laws on the books that give them the power to take guns away from people who are threatening to kill. This is blamed on a lack of awareness of the laws and resistance by some police to enforce them.

Fewer than 10 out of every 100,000 adults were disarmed under so-called “red flag” rules in 19 states and the District of Columbia since 2020, according to the Associated Press. With millions of firearms in circulation and innumerable possible warning signs encountered by law enforcement personnel on a daily basis, experts deemed that shockingly low and far from enough to make a dent in gun crime.

As Shootings and Gun Deaths Rise, Red Flag Laws Aren't Used
As Shootings and Gun Deaths Rise, Red Flag Laws Aren’t Used

Sociologist Jeffrey Swanson of Duke University, who has researched red flag gun surrender orders across the country, said of the AP tally, “It’s too little a pebble to generate a wave.” It’s like the rules don’t apply here.

Professor of law at Indiana University Jody Madeira agreed that the number of people being caught with red flags is likely to be infinitesimal, but she, like other experts who reviewed the AP’s findings, declined to speculate on how many red flag removal orders would be necessary to make a difference.

The search for answers follows a spate of mass shootings in places like Buffalo, New York; Uvalde, Texas; and Highland Park, Illinois; and a rise in gun violence not seen in decades (27,000 deaths so far this year, after 45,000 deaths in each of the previous two years).

Florida had the most, with 5,800, or 34 per 100,000 adults, but this was attributable primarily to strict enforcement in a small number of counties, many of which did not include Miami-Dade and all of which had higher rates of gun homicides than the state average. Only four of the 154 orders came from violence-plagued Chicago, but one suburban county accounted for more than a fifth of the state’s total.

There were 3,197 orders issued in California, but the state was working through a backlog of three times as many persons who were prohibited from possessing firearms due to various measures but had not yet turned in their weapons.

Some states may have relaxed their red flag rules because of a national movement of legislators and sheriffs who have identified over 2,000 counties as “Second Amendment Sanctuaries,” rejecting legislation that limits gun rights. Only 45 surrender orders were issued in the two years leading up to last year in the 37 Colorado counties that self-identify as “sanctuaries,” which is a fifth lower than the surrender order rate in non-sanctuary counties per inhabitant. As a whole, New Mexico and Nevada only reported roughly 20 orders.

Richard Mack, the former sheriff of Arizona and current president of the pro-gun Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, claimed, “The statute shouldn’t even be there in the first place.” Someone’s property and means of self-defense are being taken from them.

Red flag legislation, the vast majority of which have been passed in the previous four years, empower police officers to petition a judge to seek the surrender of firearms or, failing that, the seizure of firearms for a “emergency” period, usually two weeks. The next step is for the judge to schedule a hearing, where petitioners can argue for a longer period of time (usually a year) to keep the weapons locked up, and the owner can argue against it. If the same gun owner is involved in both the emergency order and the subsequent extended order, the AP will count them as one order.

Due to the recent increase in shootings, many states are considering or have already passed red flag laws. The Biden administration hopes to increase the prevalence of red flag laws by devoting funds under the recently enacted federal gun law to promote their publicity.

While 78% of US adults support red flag legislation, according to an AP-NORC study conducted at the end of July, there has been significant pushback against them in several states, especially in rural areas. While court cases challenging the constitutionality of such laws have generally found them to be so, opponents contend that it breaches due process rights to allow judges to rule on gun seizures in initial emergency petitions before full hearings.

Polk County, Florida, Sheriff Grady Judd is one staunch advocate for gun rights who nonetheless utilizes the law forcefully, and he claims he does not allow his convictions slow him down when gunowners threaten violence.

Judd has implemented 752 orders in a county of 725,000 people since 2020, which is more than the total orders for 15 entire states. “We’re not going to wait for a Uvalde, Texas, or a Parkland, or a Columbine if we have the knowledge and people say that they’re going to shoot or kill,” he added. We will employ the resources the government has provided.