WASHINGTON, D.C. (NewsNation) — After a string of deadly mass shootings in Buffalo, New York; Laguna Woods, California; Uvalde, Texas; and Tulsa, Oklahoma, there were bipartisan efforts on Capitol Hill last week to discuss possible legislation to help combat violent gun crimes.
Policy efforts by lawmakers have not been uncommon after mass shooting tragedies, but little movement has been made in Congress in years.
One of the most talked-about measures in the latest round of Congressional discussions is one that could garner widespread support, even though it is controversial: red flag laws.
What are red flag laws?
Red flag laws allow certain people to petition a court to have firearms taken from someone they consider to be a possible threat to themselves or others. In most cases, a family member or the police have to petition a judge to order the removal of the firearms for a set period. Currently, 19 states and Washington, D.C., have adopted such a law.
How does it work?
In a state with a red flag law, a community member must first file a petition in court, asking for firearms to be confiscated from a person of concern.
Once the petition is filed, a judge will decide to grant or deny the request to remove guns and ban new firearm purchases. That person can appeal the decision.
In some states, only household family members or law enforcement can file a petition, but in others, it’s open to school employees, health professionals, roommates or extended family.
The length of time firearms are taken from the individual also varies, but it typically lasts up to a year. Of the state data reviewed by NewsNation, about one-third of petitions are denied every year.
Do existing red flag laws work?
In the 19 states where these laws exist, tens of thousands of petitions have been filed.
Although it is impossible to quantify the shootings that were prevented by state intervention, 75% of mass shooters tell someone they’re going to do it beforehand, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
In Florida, judges have ordered guns out of the hands of people deemed a danger to themselves or others more than 8,000 times since the law was passed in 2018, according to data by the Florida State Courts Administrator.
In its first year, Colorado’s red flag law produced fewer than 125 extreme risk protection orders, with courts denying 46 of those petitions, according to Pew Research.
One Duke Law analysis of Connecticut’s red flag law, in place since 1999, found that it had helped in averting suicides and intimate partner homicides.
“We do know extreme risk protection orders are being used in cases of mass shooting threats as well,” says April Zeoli, a criminal justice professor at Michigan State University.
What is Congress considering?
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., say they are making progress as they work out details of revised red flag legislation that they co-sponsored in 2019. Their updated proposal would establish federal grants for states to create or bolster red flag laws, but wouldn’t make it mandatory under federal law.
“There are more Republicans engaged in these conversations than ever before,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Thursday. “We’re talking about a bill that will make a difference. It’ll save lives, but it’s not everything I want. Not even close.”
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While Democrats push for improving background check systems, raising the purchasing age from 18 to 21, or banning military-grade assault weapons altogether, red flag legislation has garnered the most bipartisan support.
What is the controversy?
“(The Uvalde shooting) is not an excuse to infringe on Second Amendment rights on law-abiding citizens,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said this week.
Red flag laws can be controversial for a few reasons. Judges can take away the right to a firearm from an individual, regardless of the person’s criminal record or mental health history, with no notice to the affected person. Some believe them to also unfairly discriminate against minority communities.
Under most of these red flag laws, there is no requirement that a person receives help if they are suffering from mental health issues — and although the person can appeal, this could take weeks after the initial order is imposed.