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When Police Miss Red Flags, Domestic Violence Victims May Die

One day after Mariah Carpenter was gunned down by her ex-boyfriend, her mother met police at a storage unit in Columbus, Oh., belonging to the killer. They rolled up the door and made a shocking discovery: there, among dozens of pairs of new Air Jordan sneakers, were at least 20 guns, including assault rifles. A convicted felon, Quantaine Tate was barred from having any of them under federal and state law. It wasn’t just the volume of guns Tate owned that was stunning. So was the number of warning signs that should have alerted authorities to be vigilant about protecting Carpenter from the father of her two-year-old son, the Guardian reports. Tate had physically abused Carpenter late in her pregnancy, threatened her with a gun and grabbed her by the throat. Recognizing red flags is essential for police, prosecutors and courts to make informed decisions as they try to protect domestic violence victims and their families – for example, by requiring abusers to relinquish any firearms they possess or by helping victims connect to shelters and other lifesaving support services.

Red flags have captured the attention of lawmakers in Congress. A new bipartisan law, signed by President Biden last month, contains a provision encouraging states to enact so-called red flag laws that allow police to remove guns temporarily from people at extreme risk of harming themselves or others, including intimate partners. The legislation, aimed at preventing mass shootings like the recent ones in Uvalde and Buffalo, is the most significant gun safety bill to pass Congress in nearly 30 years. Red flags can help save lives only if police, prosecutors and judges know how to identify them – and if they act on that knowledge. In scores of domestic violence gun homicides from 2017 through 2020, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that the opposite often happened: law enforcement repeatedly ignored even the most glaring signs that a victim was at high risk of being killed.