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Report raises red flag on red flag laws

“Red flag” laws have been suggested by some as at least a partial answer to keeping firearms away from those who might use them to harm themselves or others. But experiences in Florida, which has had such a statute for nearly three years, indicate a variety of concerns about them.

“Red flag” laws make it easier for law enforcement agencies to take guns away from people who have demonstrated potentially violent mental instability. The laws allow families of gun owners to request law enforcement take guns from those they feel are dangerous or unbalanced, the kind of people who should not have guns. Judges have to approve law enforcement request for such seizures.

Not long after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that state’s legislators enacted a “red flag” law. The Associated Press reviewed its use in the nearly two years since then.

Though the AP did not make this point, one consideration is the very number of times Florida law enforcement agencies have used the law: more than 3,500 times during about two years. Common sense would indicate that many of those from whom firearms were taken would not have used them against themselves or others.

But some officials told the AP they are delighted to have the law. “We have needed this law for decades,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

Some critics want the law rescinded or amended. One quoted by the AP, attorney Kendra Parris say the new statute is not needed. Tools already in the law books, such as those involving breach of the peace, permit police and sheriff’s deputies to take guns from those who may be dangerous, she said.

One constitutional concern is that because Florida’s “red flag” law does not involve a criminal charge, those whose firearms are seized are not entitled to state-provided attorneys if they cannot afford them. That is discrimination against lower-income people, critics say.

Abut 18 states have “red flag” laws. It is an issue coming up in the Minnesota Legislature. The AP’s examination of the Florida experience indicates that officials in those with the statutes may want to take fresh looks at them — and those where they are being considered should study how they have worked elsewhere. Regardless of whether one favors such restrictions, it is clear that, if enacted, they must be handled with care.

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