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Advocates Seek More Red Flag Laws, Gun Groups Say They Don't Work

Seagull Alternative High School In Fort Lauderdale, Fl., behind locked gates and a chain-link fence, educates pregnant teenagers and students at risk of dropping out. In October, a 17-year-old former student wrote Instagram message saying, "I just might come to yo school and kill everybody.” He singled out the principal and a behavioral specialist, sending a photo of a handgun and an assault rifle, the New York Times reports. Police invoked the state's red flag law, obtaining a judge's order allowing them to remove any guns in the young man’s possession. Gun safety activists and public health experts say that such orders, known as extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs) — are a way to prevent mass shootings . Nineteen states and the District of Columbia now have red flag laws, up from just two states a decade ago. Advocates are pressing for more states — including Michigan and Minnesota, where Democrats recently took control of state legislatures — to pass them this year. Only two states controlled by Republicans, Florida and Indiana, have such laws.

Gun rights groups argue that the laws violate the right to have one’s case heard in court. Erich Pratt of Gun Owners of America said the laws “don’t work,” citing back-to-back mass shootings in November in Colorado, which adopted a red flag law in 2019, and Virginia, which did so in 2020. A growing body of public health research suggests that the laws may prevent some gun violence. A six-state study of more than 6,700 ERPO cases found that nearly 10 percent involved threats to kill at least three people. bacBers say the laws are not being used aggressively enough because law enforcement agencies lack the training or bandwidth to pursue court orders, and many people do not know the laws exist. Congress passed a law last year that provides $750 million for state crisis intervention programs, including red flag laws.


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