Red Flag Laws Need to Be Implemented
These common-sense laws are bipartisan. And they could save many lives.
Last updated on September 12, 2021
Over the last decade, the U.S. had 100 times more school shootings than any other country. There were 288 in the United States and only two in the next highest country, Canada. These school shootings have affected children as young as 5.
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A school shooting is defined as "any time a gun discharges a live round inside (or into) a school building, or on (or onto) a school campus or grounds, where “school” refers to elementary, middle, and high schools—K–12—as well as colleges and universities," according to the activist and research group Everytown, which started tracking school shootings after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary massacre. In 2018, the U.S. averaged one school shooting per week. As of 2018, the country has had hundreds of school-based shootings, which is 57 times as many shootings as Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, and the U.K. and 21 other countries - combined. Still, school shootings in elementary, middle, and high schools are not commonplace and only represent about one percent of all school gun violence incidents. But, school shootings are the cause for the majority of deaths from school gun violence. Within the first 45 days in 2018, there were 17 school shootings including the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida when 17 people were killed and 14 people hospitalized with life-altering injuries. Some of the deadliest mass shootings in the country have taken place in schools, like the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary Newtown, Connecticut which killed 26 people - most of whom were six year old children. According to CNBC: "The count for 2017 school shooting was 65, including seven through Feb. 14. The last year that neared 2018?s total for the first 45 days of the year was 2014, in which there were 15 school shootings midway through February. There were 58 total school shootings in 2014." No other country needs to keep statistics like this because of far stricter gun control laws.
Clearly, the inaction by politicians has caused harm to our children. Their failure to address the root causes of school gun violence is having lasting consequences for millions of American children.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire: March 24,2018: A young girl holds a sing saying “no guns” at the March for our Lives” rally. School shootings don’t just affect the victims. They affect everyone.
We're hurting our children without these laws in place. Their mental and emotional health can be affected for years to come. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can often follow as a result of surviving of a mass shooting.
It's important to remember that victims of mass shootings are not limited to the dead or physically injured. Children can't often verbalize the emotional trauma of surviving a shooting but it does affect them mentally and emotionally. In “Mitigating the Effects of Gun Violence on Children and Youth,” James Garbarino and his colleagues point out that “children exposed to gun violence may experience negative short and long-term psychological effects, including anger, withdrawal, post-traumatic stress, and desensitization to violence.” According to the Child Welfare League of America, the effects of gun violence on children is "very real...children and youth exposed to chronic trauma can experience inhibited brain development, producing a lasting impact on life outcomes." According to Dr. Jean Kim of George Washington University medical school. “mass shootings are a first-line traumatic event that can potentially trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)...Children, in particular, are even more vulnerable; multiple studies have shown that childhood trauma has more lifelong and pervasive effects on young developing psyches, both in terms of their psychological worldview, and their physiological systems that handle stress and anxiety." Gun violence can put children at risk of developing anxiety and a host of mood disorders as well, often signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
And it affects some more than others. It can have a negative impact on future behavior. Even those children survive a mass shooting can be dealing with the fallout for decades to come.
Backpack and sign on ground at March for Life protest
A 2002 study says that, "Certain children may be at higher risk for negative outcomes if they are exposed to gun violence. Groups at risk include children injured in gun violence, those who witness violent acts at close proximity, those exposed to high levels of violence in their communities or schools, and those exposed to violent media." More than 215,000 American students have been exposed to some sort of gun violence as a result of a slew of school shootings. This does not include the thousands who have come in contact with gun violence outside of school. Medical costs for pediatric gun-related injuries costs approximately $330 million a year, according to a study published in the Hospital Pediatrics journal. This does not include the cost of ongoing treatments for physical injuries or mental health treatments for psychological damage.
Unfortunately, these school shootings are predictable. There are often emotional and behavioral warning signs of the attacker's plans.
Attackers usually exhibit some indication of what they're about to do. A Secret Service study showed there are clear predictive indicators.
The United States Secret Service and the United States Department of Education studied targeted school violence incidents and found behavioral warning signs that caused others to be concerned in 93% of cases. The Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center studied 41 school attacks from 2008 to 2017 and found that none of the school shootings were impulsive acts and all of them could have likely been prevented. The study found most of the weapons students used came from their home, many of the shooters were absent from school in the days prior to the shooting because they were suspended due to bad behavior, the disgruntled students were often treated poorly and teased by classmates in person and online, and some of the students exhibit mental health disorders and/or were suicidal. More than 75% of the attacks were in response to some sort of incident between the shooter and another student. More than half the attacks also involved the shooter and a gripe with a school administrator, however.
In fact, people have prior knowledge of a shooter’s plans in the vast majority of cases. Attackers are often clear about what they will be doing with family or friends.
Demonstrators in front of the White House protest government inaction on gun control, following a deadly shooting in a south Florida high school with an AR-15.
The United States Secret Service and the United States Department of Education studied targeted school violence incidents and found that in 81% of incidents, other people, most often the shooter’s peers, had some type of knowledge about the shooter’s plans. These incidents were not impulsive, but plans were often carried out after an incident with a classmate or school administrator. Most of these attacks were done alone but the attacker being bullied, being unable to deal with some failure or loss of a job, status, or relationship and the resulting withdrawal, anger, or depression were often clues to friends and family that something may be in the works. Other times out of the ordinary behavior could have been an indicator like one attacker asking his friends to help him get ammunition for one of his weapons, making modifications to their existing weapons to make it easier to conceal beneath their clothes. One attacker even shopped for a long trench coat with his mother and then cut the pockets out of the coat to make it easier to hold a weapon through the holes. In nearly two-thirds of the incidents, more than one person—usually a friend or sibling—had information about the attack before it happened or at least that something "bad" or "big" would occur. Many even knew the date and time, often telling several other classmates about the plans as well. However, adults knew about the plans to attack in only two of the more than 40 incidents studied. Adults did sometimes know about the attackers' history and experience of weapons, which was often an indicator some sort of plan was in the works.
One of the 8 points in the 'Everytown for Gun Safety' plan is to pass these laws. Red Flag laws are crucial as the country still grapples with Second Amendment issues.
Protesters gather for a vigil outside of the NRA on the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.
Everytown for Gun Safety developed an 8-point plan to protect children and communities from gun violence. That plan includes passing Red Flag laws. They consider them to be a critical intervention tool for preventing violent situations. According to the group: "These extreme risk protection orders, sometimes known as red flag orders or gun violence restraining orders, can be issued only after a specific legal determination is made that a person poses a serious threat to themselves or others. They also contain strong due process protections to ensure that a person’s rights are balanced with public safety. Once an order is issued, a person is required to relinquish any guns they have and is prohibited from buying new guns. This prohibition is temporary, generally lasting one year." When family or law enforcement are made aware that a student or another person is a risk to themselves or others, and that person has access to guns, they can go to a court and ask a judge for a civil restraining order. These Red Flag orders, commonly known as extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs), can only be issued after a specific legal determination is made that a person poses a threat to themself or others. Under federal law, people with serious mental illness are not prohibited from owning a gun unless they have been involuntarily, psychiatrically hospitalized or have a court disposition related to mental illness (e.g., not guilty by reason of insanity). ERPOs differ from existing federal and state law because they allow for preventive action in the absence of a civil disposition or criminal conviction.
In fact, many supporters of the Second Amendment also advocate for these laws. They are a proven tool, drafted with strong due process protections, and enjoy strong bipartisan support.
Fourteen states and many GOP senators support these laws. The measures go beyond politics to keep the community safe.
Connecticut was the first state to pass red flag laws, and they have helped keep many people safe from mass shootings. In 1999, Connecticut enacted firearm seizure legislation following a mass shooting at the state lottery headquarters. Connecticut’s law requires an “independent investigation” by police if they believe that a person poses “a risk of imminent personal injury” to self or others, followed by a warrant request, with several formal checks on the judge’s ability to order the seizure and retention of firearms by law enforcement. Indiana was the second state. In 2005, after the fatal shooting of a police officer in Indianapolis, Indiana enacted firearm seizure laws. Indiana’s law permits warrantless seizure of a person’s firearms if a police officer believes the person has a “mental illness” and is “dangerous,” defined as an imminent or future “risk of personal injury” to self or others. Indiana’s firearm seizure law was associated with a 7.5% reduction in firearm suicides in the ten years following its enactment, larger than that seen in any comparison state by chance alone. Since then, other states have followed suit. Four states (California, Washington, Oregon, and Florida) have recently passed "extreme risk protection orders." Although the specifics of each piece of legislation vary, all of these laws allow risk-based firearm seizures that are time-limited, with a level of judicial oversight and due process, and that apply to persons who are not already prohibited from owning guns. To date, 19 other states have proposed such legislation, and federal policies are being considered. Even Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in his opening remarks at the full Committee meeting, said he supports these laws and sought to downplay fears of second amendment infringement. "There are a lot of people [who] may be worried, 'Is the government going to come take your guns?' And the answer is, 'No,' " Graham said, hinting that one day he hopes there could be a federal process for law enforcement or family members to be able to petition a court signaling someone is "about to blow." Part of the reason for the reversal in political position is that public opinion has shifted. The New York Times reported that "a third of Americans reported that fear of a mass shooting stops them from going to certain public places, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association. Sixty percent say they’re worried about a mass shooting in their community."
Former President Donald Trump supported their passage. Despite being committed to protecting the Second Amendment, the then president changed his mind on red flag laws after a series of school shootings.
The Federal Commission on School Safety, which was convened by President Trump following the shootings at Parkland and Santa Fe, recently endorsed Red Flag laws as an effective tool to prevent school gun violence. He has called on states to adopt “extreme risk protection order” (ERPO) laws that protect the due process rights of law-abiding citizens. ERPOs allow law enforcement, with approval from a court, to remove firearms from individuals who are a demonstrated threat to themselves or others and temporarily to prevent individuals from purchasing new firearms. President Trump supports improving the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and the STOP School Violence Act, which provides for State-based grants to implement evidence-based violence prevention programs. The Administration requests that Congress provide funding in 2018 to jump start implementation of this evidence-based program in middle and high schools nationwide.
Even the NRA supports Red Flag laws as long as they are restricted. The powerful lobbying organization recognizes that the right to bear arms and the need to stop dangerous criminals are two goals that don't need to be at odds.
"We need to stop dangerous people before they act," Chris W. Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action said. "So Congress should provide funding to states to adopt risk protection orders," he said in a somewhat shocking support of at least a small restriction on gun ownership by those who are seen as threats to the community in which they live. The NRA's support for red flag laws comes with the condition that there be high legal thresholds for temporary gun removals — higher than most gun control activists call for. But gun control groups have assumed the NRA strictly opposes such laws, which is not true.
Mike Bloomberg is also both a Second Amendment and Red Flag law supporter. He is an example of a politician who can toe the line between both.
At the 00:30 mark of the video, Bloomberg confirms that he supports the right to bear arms but nonetheless believes in red flag laws.
Politician and business leader Mike Bloomberg supports both the right to bear arms and the need for red flag laws. Bloomberg's opinion is important in this instance because his thoughts on the matter mirror that of many Americans. Centrists like Bloomberg don't want to permanently change the Constitution, particularly an amendment part of the Bill of Rights. But, they don't want people who police deem a danger to their communities roaming about with the ability to purchase and own multiple firearms and deadly weapons. Many, like Bloomberg, feel that if you pass a background check, don't have a criminal record of violent offenses, and police have not deemed you a risk mentally or emotionally—then you should be able to own a firearm. Bloomberg is just one of many politicians—both on the left and the right—who support both red flag laws and the Second Amendment.
Red Flag laws are powerful because they are preventative. There's evidence they've prevented acts of violence in Maryland and Florida.
These laws are a way to act before threats are carried out. There have been many cases of people making threats toward schools involving firearms.
Red flag laws have been passed in 17 states and the District of Columbia. The nonpartisan Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California at Davis studied more than 20 cases in which California’s red-flag law was used in an effort to prevent a mass shooting by taking away firearms from individuals who presented a threat to themselves and others. The law was invoked in a total of 414 cases in California from 2016 through 2018. No shootings resulted in those cases. Researchers said the study “suggests that this urgent, individualized intervention can play a role in efforts to prevent mass shootings, in health care settings and elsewhere,” according to a report from the Washington Post. They also said it isn't clear whether the attacks would have definitely taken place otherwise, but the evidence proves the red flag laws work at least somewhat. A 2018 study found gun-confiscation measures were associated with a 13.7% drop in the gun-suicide rate in Connecticut and a 7.5% reduction in Indiana. In Maryland, Montgomery County Sheriff Darren Popkin stated that during the first 3 months of the implementation of Red Flag laws, 5 instances involved schools and 4 of those included significant threats.
People who carry out mass shootings often plan their attacks in advance and stockpile weapons. Red Flag laws can help identify them and keep everyone safe.
Adam Lanza, the youth that killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, owned seven firearms. Access to firearms, whether in the home or elsewhere, has been a noted warning sign for potential attackers, according to a recent report from the U.S. Secret Service. Evidence has shown that most mass shootings are not impulsive acts, but planned meticulously. That involves procuring and owning firearms, as well as making threats. Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old man from Mesquite, Nevada, opened fire upon the crowd attending the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada. The incident is the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in the Western Hemisphere. Paddock was staying at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and with the help of hotel staff brought in 22 suitcases over a number of days. All contained weapons and accessories he owned and stored in his home. If red flag laws and public education about the warning signs had been in place, police could have prevented people like Paddock and Lanza from acquiring weapons and planning their attacks. Both had suspicious behavior leading up to the attacks, as had several attackers according to friends and family interviewed for a study by the U.S. Secret Service, who have proven mass shootings are planned and threats are often made once the person has obtained the firearms they want.
Taking the simple step of implementing Red Flag laws should reduce the number of school shootings in America for the next decade. This one type of legislation could save untold lives.
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