A new report from a gun control group has found that law enforcement officials in Broward County, Florida, seized 412 guns last year by filing 255 petitions under the state’s extreme risk protection order law (aka, “red flag” law).
The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the organization behind the report, believes its findings provide evidence that similar red flag laws should be implemented by all 50 states.
“Extreme risk laws are a proven way for law enforcement to take action, without resorting to the criminal justice system, before gun tragedies like mass shootings and suicide occur,” the report states. “These findings provide compelling evidence that we hope will help support more states in passing—and effectively implementing—their own extreme risk laws.”
In Florida, only law enforcement officials can request an ex parte order from a judge to seize an individual’s firearms. If a judge grants the request, the individual (or “respondent”) must surrender his or her firearms without a hearing or trial.
After the property has been confiscated, the court schedules a hearing at which the petitioner must present “clear and convincing” evidence that the respondent poses a serious risk to himself or others. The judge then decides whether to dismiss the red flag order or grant a “final order,” which can prohibit the respondent from possessing firearms for up to one year.
In Broward County, judges granted ex parte orders in all 255 cases between March 9, 2018, and March 9, 2019. In other words, in no instance did a judge refuse to grant an order to seize an individual’s firearms.
Judges granted final orders in 87 percent of the cases, and only dismissed or denied 11 percent. Giffords researchers could not determine the final outcome in two percent of the cases.
A few other stats to note:
- Demographics: 67% of respondents were white, 17% were black, 6% were Hispanic, 1% were Asian, and 9% were identified as “other.”
- Hundreds of Petitions: Broward County didn’t even file the highest rate of petitions in Florida. Both Polk and Pinellas Counties issued more, and Polk issued twice as many per 100,000 residents.
- Types of Threats: More than half (55%) of cases involved threats of homicide, 48 percent involved threats of suicide, and 29 percent involved threats against a family member or intimate partner.
- Firearms: 412 total firearms were seized. Law enforcement seized an average of three firearms per person, and one person had 67 firearms confiscated.
The most common critique of red flag laws notes the lack of due process prior to the seizure of private property. The Giffords study both acknowledges and dismisses this fact:
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“Ex parte orders are granted by a judge in response to a petition, without the opportunity for the respondent to attend a hearing. This exception to normal due process requirements is permitted due to the emergency and often volatile nature of ERPO cases.”
The report highlights a number of case studies involving individuals who threatened to commit mass homicide at a school, threatened to commit suicide, threatened construction workers with a knife, and suffered from “extreme delusions and unsafe handling of firearms.”
But the report fails to include the data from the other incidents, and Giffords did not respond to a request from GunsAmerica to provide that additional information.
It’s also worth noting that in their praise for Florida’s red flag law, the report’s authors fail to answer the most pertinent questions that might prove or disprove the law’s efficacy.
There’s no mention, for example, of whether the new red flag system is actually more effective than previous laws that allowed law enforcement to disarm suspects. The report also fails to say whether the individuals whose firearms were seized went on to commit crimes or harm themselves, and it doesn’t explain how law enforcement know that they have seized all of a person’s firearms.
GunsAmerica posed these questions to Giffords and has yet to receive a response.