At the beginning of this month, two shootings, El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, along with President Trump’s call for states to pass extreme risk protection order laws stirred up discussions among people I know about the intent of these laws and the potential conflict with due process rights. However, extreme risk protection orders, also known as “ERPO laws” or red flag laws (in this series, I will refer to them as “red flag laws”), have been gaining popularity among the states since the first law passed in 1999 in Connecticut following a fatal shooting at the Connecticut Lottery headquarters in Newington.[i] In my discussions, I have learned that some individuals were not aware of the history of the extreme risk protection order laws. This is the first in a series of blogs that is meant to educate on the history of passage of these laws, the viewpoints from both sides, outcomes relating to studies surrounding these laws, the impact on an individual’s due process rights and what the courts in other states have said, and what is happening in Michigan. This week, I am discussing the history of red flag laws.
The first thing to know about red flag laws is that as of August 14, 2019 a total of 17 states and the District of Columbia have passed extreme risk protection laws. These laws are meant to prevent a person in crisis from harming themselves or others by temporarily removing guns and prohibiting the purchase of guns. Each state has passed its own version of these laws and refers to these laws by differing names. The laws have been referred to as extreme risk protection orders, red flag laws, or gun violence restraining orders. Some states restrict those who can request the protective order to law enforcement officials only while other states have expanded the group of people to include family members, dating partners, former spouses or dating partners, to roommates.[ii] About 21 other states have taken some steps toward adopting a red flag law.[iii]
The second thing to know about red flag laws is that most states have enacted their version of this law following a mass shooting. It started with Connecticut in 1999. Matt Beck, a employee at the Connecticut Lottery killed four of his supervisors before killing himself with a 9mm Glock pistol with a 19-round magazine.[iv] Beck had a history of attempted suicide, failed to win a promotion, and had filed a work-related grievance over a salary dispute.[v] He was under a doctor’s care and on medications.[vi] His father said that there was nothing unusual about his demeanor as he left that morning.[vii]
Indiana was next to pass a red flag law in 2005. The state passed the law after a fatal shooting.[viii] Kenneth Anderson, a 33-year-old man, carried a semi-automatic rifle and two handguns while he opened fire on homes and vehicles in an Indianapolis neighbor after he killed his mother.[ix] A police officer was shot and killed during the shootings.[x] Five months, prior to the fatal shootings, police had put Anderson under “immediate attention” at a hospital and seized weapons and ammunition from his home.[xi]
California was next following the Isla Vista killings by Elliott Rodger. Rodger was 22-years old.[xii] He used his vehicle, guns and knives to kill seven people, himself and wounded another 13 people.[xiii] He ran down skateboarders and bikers, fired through shop windows, and killed two women on a sorority house lawn.[xiv] His body was found near three handguns and more than 400 rounds of ammunition.[xv] His was a planned attack that he publicized with a video stating that “he had no choice but to exact revenge.”[xvi] Even though family and doctor had very clear warnings about his risk to himself or others, there was little anyone could do.[xvii]
Washington was the next to pass a red flag law in 2016[xviii]. Oregon followed in early 2018.[xix] At that time, there were five states with red flags on their books.
After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February 2018, another eleven states passed red flag laws.[xx] Florida passed its law three weeks after the shooting and started a wave of states to follow.[xxi] This was a bipartisan movement after evidence showed that 19-year-old suspect showed several signs that he would act violently in the months prior to the shooting.[xxii] Family members alerted police about his disturbing social media messages and that he expressed a desire to kill.[xxiii] The FBI acknowledged failing to act on a tip prior to the shooting that killed 17 people.[xxiv]
Currently, a version of a red flag law has been introduced in both the Michigan House of Representatives and the Michigan Senate. I will further explore and detail what the six bills propose and what their status is in upcoming blogs.
Even Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is a supporter of red flag laws at the local level.[xxv] He told “Face the Nation” on April 28, 2019 that he “is pushing his committee for a national grant program to ‘incentivize’ states to pass them.”[xxvi] He believes such a law would have made a difference in the Parkland shooting.[xxvii]
The first step in deciding whether to support or oppose an extreme risk protection order is educate yourself on what they are, how and when they are passed, whether they have worked in other states, and what you can do to protect yourself from being a respondent to one. Follow this series of blogs to learn more about red flag laws, and then do more research on your own to form your independent opinion on red flag laws.
[i] Stanglio, Doug, “Should guns be seized from those who pose threats? More states saying yes to red flag laws” https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/05/01/red-flag-laws-temporarily-take-away-guns/35214910027, accessed August 29, 2019.
[vi] Tuohy, Lynne, “”Killer’s Parents Apologize” https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-xpm-1998-03-08-9803080035-story.html, accessed August 30, 2019.
[viii] Stanglio, Doug
[xviii] “What are Extreme Risk Law?” https://www.bradyunited.org/fact-sheets/what-are-extreme-risk-laws, accessed August 29, 2019.
[xx] Lee, Kurtis. “Here’s what you need to know about ‘red-flag’ laws, the latest trend in gun control.” https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2019-08-14/nationwide-red-flag-gun-laws-have-increased-but-do-they-work
[xxv] Stanglio, Doug.