Thursday, July 7, 2022

Red Flag failure - laws mean nothing if not implemented

The 4th of July mass public shooting of parade goers in Illinois is yet one more tragedy sparking calls for new gun control laws.   As in the Buffalo shopping center mass public shooting, this event occurred in a state with some of the most stringent gun control laws in the country.  Only seven states are ranked A- or better, including Illinois and New York, by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.  Both states also have Red Flag Laws in place that if properly resourced, prioritized, and enforced could have prevented both events. 

In a previous blog post, “Mourning with Uvalde – what can we do?” this blog recommended several actions for readers and law makers to make changes that could be realistically achieved and might make a difference.   Another blog post, “A victory for respectful bipartisan collaboration,” described some legislative success at the federal level.  One of the outcomes was to support states in creating and implementing Red Flag laws. 

As I have written before, there are now 19 states with Emergency Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws commonly called Red Flag laws. These laws are essential to successful intervention at the intersection of dangerousness and firearm access.   They typically create a process for the removal of guns from the possession of an individual who demonstrates they are dangerous to themselves or others.  Having a Red Flag law in place is essential as a first step in this effort. 

But I warned in that original blog:  Do not assume that because your state has passed a law that it is being implementing properly! 

Passing a law is not the final answer, only the enabling part. Government representatives always focus on passing new laws so that they can say they “did something.”  Passing a law is just the beginning of a process to create institutions and resources to use the law successfully to its intended purpose.  We are not good at this and failure to enforce existing laws creates resistance to passing new laws.   It is essential that citizens hold their leaders to account on the enforcement of laws.

Unfortunately, it appears the effectiveness of implementing Red Flag laws varies dramatically by state.  One recent report indicated Florida used their Red Flag law “2,355 times to temporarily remove guns last year, nearly half the national total.”  New York, with a comparable population to Florida only used its law 255 times. 

In another report, the Buffalo grocery store mass public shooting was identified as a specific failure of a state to implement existing law.  The murderer made many prior statements and underwent psychiatric examination that should have triggered New York’s Red Flag law when he tried to purchase weapons.  "Buffalo was a textbook case. It was not the failure of the law. It was the failure of the implementation of the law," said John Feinblatt of Everytown for Gun Safety.   

In Illinois, there is today an effort to strengthen its Red Flag law with one legislator saying, “There’s alot we can do, and loopholes in the law which we need to fill.”  It may well be that there are loopholes to fix and lessons to better the law.  But Illinois is an abject failure at implementing the existing law.  

Despite several mass public shootings in that state, CBS News reports court records “indicate only 51 emergency orders issued statewide in 2020 and 37 of them in 2021.”  State Rep. Denyse Stoneback said of Illinois’ record, "When the red flag law was first enacted, there was no structure put in place to inform residents or law enforcement about its passage or implementation."

The point here is to tell readers once again, you must hold officials accountable.   Do you have a Red Flag law in your state?  Is it funded properly?  How is the public educated about how to use it?  What specific coordination and procedures have been created in your community between police and schools to detect dangerous persons?  What kind of culture exists in your community to report a suspected dangerous person in your home, school, or community?

Again, we can pass laws all day long, but if we do not implement, resource, and enforce them properly they are useless.  If you think your state is immune, think again.  CBS News reported Massachusetts, another A- rated gun control state, has only dozens of actions using its Red Flag law.   How is it possible that Florida can have nearly 9,000 since its implementation in comparison?  Ask some questions.

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