A sheriff’s office in Florida recently assigned five officers to a new team devoted exclusively to confiscating guns under the state’s new risk protection order law, according to WFTS ABC Action News.
Otherwise known as a red flag law, Florida’s statue allows law enforcement officers to temporarily confiscate firearms if a judge deems the owner to be a danger to him/herself or others. Florida’s blue uniforms haven’t shied away from using their new tool. In the 137 days between the law’s adoption and July 24, law enforcement filed 467 risk protection orders, or nearly 3.5 per day, according to WFTS.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri drafted a five-man team to handle the 64 risk protection petitions his office has filed, the second-most in the state behind Broward County’s 88.
Gualtieri assured local media that he understands the constitutional rights at stake in his decisions.
“It’s a constitutional right to bear arms and when you are asking the court to deprive somebody of that right we need to make sure we are making good decisions, right decisions and the circumstances warrant it,” Gualtieri explained when asked why he decided to devote an entire unit to carry out the new law.
One of his sergeants, Jason Schmittendorf, also told media that all of the cases have been black and white.
“We haven’t looked at one and said this isn’t it,” he said.
But not everyone is so sure.
Attorney Kendra Parris has represented at least two individuals who came under risk protection orders despite the fact that they had never owned a firearm.
“These are individuals who are often exercising their first amendment rights online, who are protecting constitutionally protected speech online,” she said. “Maybe it was odious, maybe people didn’t like it, but they were hit with the risk protection order because of it.”
One of her clients, University of Central Florida student Chris Velasquez, made headlines in March when Orlando police filed a risk protection order after the young man praised mass murderers online. The other, a minor, was hit with an RPO because he or she had a dream of killing.
“I think we’re doing this because it makes us feel safer,” Parris said. “[The problem is that] it violates the Constitution.”
Parris believes the law needs to be rewritten in two ways. She believes RPOs should only be issued against people who already own guns or who have tried to purchase guns, and the law needs to more strictly define the threat as “imminent.”
“As it’s written now the harm can be in 6 months or maybe in a year this person will go crazy, we don’t know but out of an abundance of caution we need to get this risk protection in place,” she said.
Six states have implemented risk protection orders this year as a way to confiscate firearms from potential mass murderers and suicidal individuals. The majority of Florida’s RPOs have been issued as an attempt to prevent suicide. The problem, as we noted in May, is that RPOs use gun confiscation as a way to avoid treating mental health problems.