Side Effects Public Media

Earlier this year, police dispatchers in Evansville, Indiana, received a chilling call. A man said he was holding his wife at knifepoint, and he warned police that he was heavily armed.

“I’ve spent the last two days arming my residence against forced police entry, and I’m armed to the teeth,” he told dispatchers over the phone.

The threat to the man’s wife wasn’t real. He was arrested for the improper 911 call while taking out the trash.

But he wasn’t lying when he said he had a lot of guns. Police found 10 throughout his house, which they confiscated without a warrant under Indiana’s Red Flag Law.

More and more states are adopting so-called Red Flag Laws in an attempt to curb gun violence. These laws allow police to confiscate guns in an emergency.

Sam Preston has seen it used before.

“Quite often what it looked like would be deputies were responding to someone who’s in crisis,” says Preston, who recently left the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office after 30 years. “If there were weapons involved, they would take the opportunity to take the weapons with us.”

Pioneering law

Indiana’s Red Flag Law was passed in 2005 and is one of the oldest in the country. But it isn’t used a lot.

The Evansville Police Department thinks this is the first time it’s taken guns under the law. Preston says the sheriff’s office has used it about a half dozen times.

“I don’t think that anyone wants to live in a country where people can have their weapons seized and taken away from them,” Preston says.

Preston calls himself a Second Amendment supporter and says the law strikes a good balance.

“We also do have to protect the public, and just because someone at a moment in time may not be healthy enough for them to have a weapon, doesn’t mean that down the road that they won’t be able to,” Preston says.

Indiana’s Red Flag Law doesn’t require officers to obtain a warrant. Without one, police have to get a judge’s permission to hold onto the weapons.

Preston says judges almost always rule in favor of law enforcement, but the gun owner has the right to ask the court every six months to get the guns back.

Many people whose guns are taken away under the law do eventually get them back.

N.C. Governor urges action on background tracking, “red flag” laws

In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper took steps Monday to strengthen the state’s response to gun safety,  an issue he described as critically important with an average of 1,311 dying from firearms used in homicides and suicides each year in North Carolina.

Cooper’s executive directive requires the State Bureau of Identification to ensure criminal convictions in North Carolina are properly and promptly entered into the National Instant Criminal Background System. The federal database is consulted during firearm purchases to ensure buyers aren’t prohibited from owning guns.

The SBI, in 2018, found more than 280,000 instances where convictions were not properly entered into the database, according to Cooper.

The governor also directed the SBI to provide behavioral threat assessment training to local law enforcement agencies and ordered the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to launch a public awareness campaigns around safe gun storage practices. The state health agency will also convene a coalition to look at suicide prevention work involving access to guns.

Cooper, a Democrat often at odds with the Republican leaders of the state legislature, made his announcement while criticizing lawmakers for dragging their feet on several pieces of gun safety legislation.

“Recognizing that the odds are long for our current legislature to make real changes, today I signed an executive directive to my cabinet agencies to build on the work we’ve done to this point,” Cooper said, according to a written statement. “Wishing, praying and sending condolences alone just aren’t enough to prevent these tragedies. We have to take action.” – Sarah Ovaska-Few, North Carolina Health News

“I think most of those crises are short-lived, and in particular talking about people about suicide,” says Kent Leslie, who used to work for a local mental health center. He’s taught classes on mental health issues to law enforcement, medical professionals and the general community.

That included training to prevent suicide by limiting access to guns.

“When somebody’s at risk of dying by suicide, if we have some distance and time from the lethal means, it does save lives,” Leslie says.

He stresses that the vast majority of people with mental illnesses are not violent, and they’re much more likely to be the victim of violence than to perpetrate it.

Leslie says that law enforcement is part of larger network of family, friends and health care professionals working to prevent harm.

Suicide prevention

“I see the person that has a mental illness or that may be at risk of dying by suicide as the center of a wagon wheel and those spokes that surround that wagon wheel can help that person move forward,” Leslie says. “The more spokes, the better.”

Just over half of suicides in the United States involve a gun. Leslie says Red Flag Laws can help.

Even in a red state like Indiana, which recently hosted the National Rifle Association convention, laws like these have bipartisan support.

“It’s common sense,” says Republican state Rep. Wendy McNamara. “We don’t want dangerous individuals having access to guns, and if they do, we want to make sure that we find help for these individuals and that their weapons are taken away from them.”

This year, McNamara co-sponsored some changes to the Indiana law, and they passed almost unanimously.

The new version allows state police to give the FBI the names of people who’ve had their guns taken away, and it’s now a crime to supply a gun to those people.

The changes come as other states turn to Indiana for guidance.

Florida passed a Red Flag Law following the school shooting in Parkland in February 2018. Colorado recently became the 15th state to pass one.

“Indiana has been recognized because we were one of the originals having a Red Flag Law,” McNamara says. “A lot of people are looking to Indiana as they go and rewrite their laws on this type of process when it comes to taking away weapons from dangerous individuals.”

Back in Evansville, a judge allowed police to keep the guns of the man who made the threatening 911 call. His case on the 911 call is still pending, and his lawyers didn’t respond to a request for comment.

But Evansville police say the law worked just as it was meant to.

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This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a news collaborative covering public health. The collaborative is based at WFYI Public Media in Indianapolis, and works in partnership with public...

4 replies on “Want to prevent gun violence? Some states turn to ‘red flag’ laws.”

  1. Last I heard, red flag or Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws are the only untenable positions taken by President Trump. That said, politicians who support this notion will regret the day they ever heard of red flag laws. Their legacies will carry a Supreme Court scolding and perhaps be a landmark of their careers. But not to worry. Red Flag laws will be overturned soon enough.

    The Supreme Court isn’t about to jeopardize its own reputation by reducing the ability of private citizens to defend themselves. It’s especially important because currently, half the nation’s murders occur in only 63 counties while the other half are spread across the other 3,081 counties. Said another way, 15 percent had one murder and 54 percent of the nation’s counties had no murders at all.

    These laws were created to dilute the power licensed to the psychiatric community and transfer it to unqualified persons the democrats can influence, e.g., local judges and disgruntled aunts. These confiscation laws are still being trumpeted by democrats because their usual gun control arguments have been lopsided, illogical losers.

    Democrats and weak minded Republicans are victims of the bum’s rush. They’ve been hoodwinked by Bloomberg’s rhetoric and haven’t read his 2018 data. It reveals gun homicides declined seven percent, firearm injuries declined 10 percent, fatal child shootings (under 18) declined 12 percent and unintentional shootings plummeted 21 percent. Generally, since 1991, the murder rate has fallen by 45 percent and the overall violent crime rate has fallen by 48 percent.

    Additionally, shooting incidents involving students have been declining since the ’90s. During that time, citizens were buying a record number of firearms. In 2018, more than 26 million firearms were purchased, a number exceeded only by 27.5 million in 2016 when purchasers were mortified that Hillary might be elected.

    Further, a December 2018 Gallup Poll revealed that gun control is last on a list of what Americans cite as the most important problem facing the U.S. Seems government is the most important problem and immigration is second most important. Obviously, the socialist-democrats are …

  2. As a lifetime outdoorsman, ethical hunter and legal gun owner (possess CCP as well), I WANT to see NC adopt “Red Flag Laws”. It has to be done today.

    Police only can act under laws standing. Without such laws in place, you can only file some complaint they “log” into their notes and nothing gets done. Of course if a crime does occur, then police can act, but it is too late then.

    One BIG loophole many do not realize here in NC which I am against and WANT eliminated is this: You cannot have a conceal carry permit (will fail background check) if you have any type misdemeanor, felony, or such charges on record including domestic violence and so on. It’s a big list. However, if you say, already own a gun already, you cal legally carry such on the outside of your person, or loaded laying on front passenger seat of a car, and this is legal in NC!

    This “loophole” has got to be stopped. Because there are individuals we know from our contracting business dealings out there who are serious nut cases, intimidate older folks for money wearing such firearm on them, who have NOT passed or have a CCP background check and have many criminal/civil/legal type charges filed on them you can easily see in any background check- and they are out there right now walking around “legally carrying a loaded firearm about them” and known as “short fused individuals” in our circles because they blow up, act erradic to people if they do not hear what they want. That should be a Red Flag if ever !

    We sadly had one such run-in recently with a roofing contractor out of Vale, NC. In fact, the customer of ours who originally referred him to us for a guttering need, called us shortly thereafter to say STOP dealing to him- but it was too late. Further investigation we found not only many charges/complaints filed about him, but people he seems to use intimidation tactics to get monies from (especially older folks), and this not…

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