May 26, 2022 - Politics & Policy

How red flag gun control laws work

Illustration of a red flag in the shape of a handgun
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, this week has spurred bipartisan discussions in Congress about the potential to pass any legislation, with red flag gun control laws emerging as one potential path forward.

The big picture: Nineteen states currently have red flag laws, including in GOP-controlled states such as Florida and Indiana.

  • Below is a brief look at red flag laws — how they work, which states have them and what lawmakers are saying about the legislation.
What are red flag laws?
  • Red flag laws, or Extreme Risk Protection Orders, are state laws that allow law enforcement — with a court order — to temporarily seize guns from someone considered a danger to themselves or others.
  • Most requests come from family members who are fearful of a loved one showing warning signs of violence.
  • If a judge deems an individual dangerous, law enforcement is permitted to take away all of the individuals' firearms for a period of time, during which the individual is also not allowed to buy or sell guns, per WAMU.
How many states have red flag laws?
  • Currently, 19 states and D.C. have some version of a red flag law: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
  • Connecticut was the first state to pass a red flag law in 1999, after a mass shooting at the Connecticut Lottery.
  • At least 14 states adopted red flag gun laws after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
  • States have different versions of red flag laws. Most states allow only law enforcement and family members to order the courts to seize or block the purchase of firearms.
  • Some states allow medical professionals, school officials and coworkers to petition the courts, while other states, including Maine, only allow law enforcement to petition the courts, known as a yellow flag law.
Who opposes red flag laws?
  • Red flag laws, especially in the wake of a mass shooting, have drawn some bipartisan support.
  • But many gun rights advocates, including the National Rifle Association, oppose red flag laws, saying they do not protect a person's due process rights, CNN reports.
Could Congress pass a red flag law?
  • National red flag legislation has historically been blocked in Congress. But, in the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, this week, some lawmakers on both sides have expressed support for federal red flag legislation.
  • Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a moderate known to cross party lines, discussed potential yellow and red flag laws Wednesday morning, Axios' Alayna Treene and Andrew Solender report.
  • And Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) on Thursday said that he was going to talk to Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) about red flag legislation, Punchbowl News reports.
  • Still, many Republicans continue to express hesitation over enacting such legislation on the federal level.
  • Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said: "I'm OK with" supporting a federal red flag law but added that generally such laws should be up to the states, Treene and Solender report.
  • Some Democrats remain pessimistic that any meaningful gun legislation could get 10 Republican votes. "Several different times we've had conversations among members and at markups about the desirability and the relevance of having" red flag laws, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told Axios.
  • "That should be enactable, but in the several years since, despite repeated efforts ... we haven't been able to get to 10 on that."

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