Ilinois state Rep. Bob Morgan was getting ready to join the July 4th Parade in Highland Park, Ill., when one of his staffers yelled, “gunshots!” He got his wife and children to safety and ran toward where the shots rang out. He found a grim scene that’s played out in many cities. A mass shooting had left seven people dead and 48 wounded at the parade north of Chicago. Now he is determined to prevent future shootings. He hopes to pass legislation to ban the sale of assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and devices designed to speed up the rate of fire, reports Politico.
“We have the challenge of time — not just the legislative calendar but every day that passes, we’re going to see another gun death,” he said. “So the urgency I feel is that every day I haven’t passed this bill is another family dealing with the trauma of gun violence.”
Motivated by tragedy and a frustration with Congress, Democratic lawmakers in states that have experienced highly publicized mass shootings like Illinois, Michigan and Colorado are preparing their own gun safety agendas for the new year. Atop he list: enacting or expanding “red flag” laws that allow courts to confiscate guns from someone deemed dangerous.
Illinois lawmakers may act as soon as next month. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already have red flag laws — many in the aftermath of the 2018 Florida Parkland shooting, where 17 students died and another 17 were injured.
Many states are running into problems using the laws to prevent gun violence, sparking a new national push to redesign and implement them.
“Passing laws is half the equation and implementing them is the other half,” said John Feinblatt of Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for reducing gun violence. “What we’ve seen in too many instances like in Buffalo, N.Y., and Highland Park, Il., there were clear signs that a red flag law could have been used and prevented tragedy. The costs are too high to not focus on implementation.”
Also known as extreme risk protection orders (ERPO), red flag laws are used by law enforcement to respond to potential threats, often in cases of domestic violence or suicide, and, possibly mass shootings. Police, family members and teachers can ask a court to take away a gun from a person for up to a year if they feel that person poses a danger to themselves or others.
“Hopefully people who get behind ERPO see it as a way to get ahead of a tragedy before it happens,” said Sean Holihan, state legislative director of Giffords, an anti-gun violence nonprofit founded by former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot in 2011. “As long as we get them to understand people’s due process rights are respected, we’re just trying to prevent a tragedy, whether it’s taking their own life or a mass shooting.”
Opponents of red flag laws argue that the legal procedures for removing guns violates a person’s due process rights and could be used as a tactic in domestic disputes. Republican critics and gun groups like the National Rifle Association have defeated proposed legislation in a number of GOP-controlled states like Arizona, Nebraska and Kentucky as recently as this year.
Even among states that have enacted the measures, there are huge inconsistencies in how often these laws are used. The practice can vary widely from county to county within the same state.