The Complicated Politics Of Passing A Red Flag Law | KCUR

The Complicated Politics Of Passing A Red Flag Law

Aug 10, 2019
Originally published on August 13, 2019 12:15 pm

Shortly after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, eight states passed some form of an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPOs) law, also known as a “red flag” law.

Now, some lawmakers want to take legislative action in response to the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, and ERPOs are being considered yet again.

An ERPO allows family members or law enforcement remove firearms from a person who might be at risk of harming themselves or others. Connecticut was the first state to pass this type of law back in 1999.

Now, 17 states and the District of Columbia have some form of it.

States That Had “Red Flag” Laws Before Parkland

Connecticut Indiana California
Oregon Washington

States That Passed A “Red Flag” Law Shortly After Parkland Shooting

Delaware Florida Illinois District of Columbia
Maryland Massachusetts New Jersey Rhode Island Vermont

States That Passed “Red Flag” Laws in 2019

Colorado New York
Hawaii Nevada

Battles At The State Level

Lawmakers in other states have announced interest in passing an ERPO law following the shootings.

Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio received pressure to “do something” from his constituents after the shooting in Dayton, which killed 10 people and injured 27 others.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Aug. 6, — two days after the shooting in Dayton — DeWine announced he wanted Ohio to pass its own law.

“Police and sheriff’s deputies also need to be able to activate the criminal justice system when they find an individual in that situation,” DeWine said.

Democrats in North Carolina have been trying to pass an ERPO law since 2018. But shortly after it was introduced, it was sent to committee and died there. North Carolina Legislator Marcia Morey, (D-Durham, ) sponsored the bill last year, and re-introduced it this session.

“130 days, this bill was filed,” Morey said at a press conference in the week following the shootings in Dayton and El Paso. “There has been no committee hearing, there has been no discussion, there has been no debate.”

Earlier that week, she and other lawmakers signed a discharge petition, which would remove the bill from committee and force it to the floor for a vote, but only if it gets a majority of signatures.

So far, it has received 48 signatures, short of the 61 it needs to advance.

Opposition From Gun Groups

North Carolina gun groups aren’t happy with the idea of a new gun control law.

Paul Valone leads Grass Roots North Carolina, a gun rights advocacy group. He’s worried the law would take guns away from people without due process.

“Someone can go to a judge, declare you dangerous, and you won’t get a chance to defend yourself in court,” Valone said.

Valone also says that ERPO laws don’t focus on the reason someone commits violence. It takes away the implement they would use.

“It seems they’re trying to be the arbiters of what freedoms and what constitutional freedoms I’m allowed to have and deny,” he said.

Rob Setzer owns Raeford Guns in Raeford, North Carolina. He is concerned that these laws apply to hypothetical criminals, not to the people who have already committed crimes.

“You don’t want to strip away law abiding citizens’ rights to defend themselves,” Setzer said.

Studies suggest gun-owners using firearms in self-defense this are exceedingly rare. A 2015 study found that self-defense gun use occurs in less than one percent of all crimes when the victim and perpetrator encounter each other.

Getting these laws passed in other states has not been easy. In April 2019, Colorado passed its own ERPO law.

Colorado State Rep. Tom Sullivan sponsored the bill and had a special interest in seeing it through: his son, Alex, was killed in the shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012.

“I’m here at the legislature to make sure what happened to my family and my son doesn’t happen to others,” Sullivan said.

The law goes into effect in January 2020, but some sheriffs in conservative parts of the state are saying they won’t enforce it. Steve Reams, Weld County’s Sheriff, spoke out against the laws at a fundraiser in July.

“The red flag bill is just one step towards a really bad path for this state,” he said. “If we don’t fight back hard and if we don’t fight back strong, we’re going to lose this state.”

In Washington D.C., Sen. Lindsey Graham announced on Monday afternoon that he is planning to introduce federal ERPO legislation.

“We’ve talked with gun-owning groups, we’ve talked to the cops, and we’re trying to come up with a serious solution to a serious problem,” Graham said.

Graham hasn’t introduced it yet, but he has said it will set up a federal grant program that encourages states to create their own version of a ERPO or “red flag” law.

As for North Carolina, Democrats are hoping this week’s attention on their bill could help them get the signatures they need to get it to the floor for a vote.

Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.

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