- In at least 10 mass shootings, suspects purchased guns despite being in red flag law states.
- Studies have shown that the measure can be an effective way to prevent mass shootings.
- But the law is only as strong as it is properly implemented and used, one researcher said.
As the US continues to be rocked by a chain of deadly mass shootings, lawmakers and the public have made loud calls to rein in firearm ownership through stronger federal gun laws.
In June, President Joe Biden signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act — the most significant piece of gun legislation to pass in decades. Part of the bill included $750 million in federal funding for states to implement intervention programs such as gun restraining orders, more colloquially known as “red flag laws.”
The scope of the law varies by state. Generally, it allows law enforcement, family members, and sometimes school staff to petition someone’s firearms to be confiscated if they present a danger to themselves or to others.
“Red flag laws are an intuitive law and they’re a popular law,” Veronica Pear, a researcher in the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, who studied red flag laws in California, told Tausi Insider. “And, anecdotally, we can say that they’ve disarmed many people who were making threats of mass shootings.”
But the law is far from foolproof, Pear said.
On Saturday, a gunman entered an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and killed 5 people and injured at least 25 others.
The Associated Press reported that in 2021 police responded to a call that the 22-year-old suspect threatened his mother with a homemade bomb — an incident that could have triggered Colorado’s red flag law if it was enforced. The state also conducts universal background checks.
But these laws are only as useful as they are properly implemented, Pear said.
When California enacted the Gun Violence Restraining Orders in 2016, Pear’s study found that law enforcement didn’t take full advantage of the measure until at least two years after it went into effect.
“That would explain of course why we had so few orders issued in the first couple of years,” she said.
Other issues Pear’s research team found around implementation included a lack of funding for training and, in some cases, law enforcement’s unwillingness to use the law, especially in areas where there is a strong culture of gun ownership.
“There can be cultural barriers within police departments,” Pear said. “In Colorado, we saw sheriffs coming out and saying that they would refuse to petition for these orders.”
When the law is properly utilized, Pear and her researchers found that red flag laws can be effective.
In California, out of the 201 cases the state’s gun restraining orders were utilized, almost 30% of them, or 58 cases, involved individuals making mass shooting threats, according to Pear’s study.
Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have some form of a red flag law in place. About 16 of those jurisdictions enacted the law on or after 2018, following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Tausi Insider found at least nine other cases of shootings with three or more fatalities, in which the suspect or perpetrator was known to have shown concerning behaviors, such as threats to themselves or the public, by mental health evaluators, law enforcement, or family members. And despite their state’s gun restraining measures, the perpetrators were able to purchase a firearm.
Here are several cases where shooters and suspects slipped through the cracks of their state’s red flag laws.