What Are Red Flag Laws? Find Out If Your State Participates

These gun laws are going into effect in states throughout the country.

By Madeline Merinuk
red flag laws

Many have criticized Congress for its response to our nation’s mass shooting epidemic – and that’s where red flag laws can potentially step in. But what are red flag laws and how can they help protect people from shootings? Red flag laws are state-mandated laws that allow courts to order an ERPO (extreme risk protection order), to temporarily confiscate firearms from people who are "deemed by a judge to be a danger to themselves or to others," says Amy Swearer, senior legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation and expert on The Dr. Oz Show

According to CBS News, the person reporting this case must have substantial evidence that the gun-owner in question is a threat to the safety of themselves or those around them. This court order will often come from a family member or friend of the person in question who owns a gun. In most states with red flag laws, a family member can petition for a firearm to be removed from someone's possession, but in some states, only law enforcement officers are permitted to do so. According to Swearer, "courts across the country have issued more than 1,700 gun seizure orders in the year since the Parkland massacre, most of them being in Florida." 

States That Have Passed Red Flag Laws

The first red flag law was passed in Connecticut in 1999. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have implemented some sort of red flag law, according to a report from the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund.

As of 2018, only five states had red flag laws, according to the nonprofit news organization of gun coverage in the U.S., The Trace. After the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people, many legislators pushed to enact red flag laws in their own states. As of Sept. 18, 2019 these 17 states, plus the District of Columbia, have passed red flag laws: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Success Rate of Red Flag Laws

There is not a lot of research around gun violence, due to constant disagreements surrounding federal funding. Additionally, research has been limited due to the Dickey Amendment, which was passed by Congress in 1996 and "prohibits the use of federal funds to advocate or promote gun control." However, according to The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) in the wake of multiple mass shootings, Congress passed a spending bill which "clarifies that the amendment does not prohibit federal funding of research on the causes of gun violence." Hopefully, more in-depth research will be available as these red flag laws become more widespread.

A 2018 study published in Psychiatric Services did conclude that red flag laws had a direct correlation with a decrease in gun suicides in both Indiana and Connecticut — a 7.5 percent decrease and 13.7 percent, respectively. As of now, there is no reported connection between red flag laws and a decrease in mass shootings.

Major Corporations Are Taking Action Against Gun Violence

After the August 2019 mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas multiple news outlets reported that Walmart would cease open carry policies in its stores across the nation. According to Business Insider, Walmart plans to stop selling ammunition for handguns —  as well as some rifles — and will stop selling handguns in Alaska entirely. The chain will also reportedly ask customers to no longer carry firearms in store. Other major corporations like Walgreens, CVS, and Publix have asked the same of their customers, following in Walmart's footsteps.

How to Report Someone

If you live in a red flag state, that means you have the ability to report people for ERPOs. But how do you know if someone you know might need to be flagged? Adolescent psychologist Stacy Meissner, an expert on The Dr. Oz Show, outlined three potential warning signs. 

  • Access to weapons: If the person you are concerned about owns, or has access to, a gun you should consider reporting them. "Most mass shooters obtain the firearms they use legally," says Meissner. 
  • Behavioral changes: Has this person's personality changed? Are they isolating themselves, sleeping less, eating less, or more agitated? 
  • Listen to them: Meissner points out that this is the most noticeable warning sign. If someone you know is talking about harming themselves or others in person, to others, on social media, you should take caution. If they are fascinated by recent mass shootings you should take note. "A majority of mass shooters have leaked their plans in some way before the tragedies ensued," says Meissner. 

If you are living in a state without red flag laws, but want to report something troubling about someone who has access to a gun, please call this number: 1-800-799-SAFE.

Related:

Doctors Speak Out About Gun Violence Crisis

Why There Isn't a Solution for Gun Violence Yet

Why We Shouldn't Blame Gun Violence on Mental Illness

Article written by Madeline Merinuk