(CNSNews.com) – The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Tuesday about new legislation that would allow citizens to initiate a legal process that would remove firearms from a person they consider “a danger to himself or herself” or to “law enforcement.”
The bill, the “Extreme Risk Protection Order and Violence Prevention Act of 2018,” was introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.). In their ranking of senators in 2012, the NRA and Gun Owners of America, respectively, gave Rubio a B+/A, Nelson an F/F, and Reed an F/F-.
“Basically, the police or a family member who thinks someone is dangerous can go to court,” he said. “They can get a court order, and they can take that person’s guns away and keep them from buying new ones.”
“Florida has already passed it,” he said. “Five other states are already passing it. And now we’re putting out there a law to try to get all the other states in the country to do the same thing, so you can find these people and you can take away their guns before they kill anybody.”
“This bill can help prevent tragedies like mass-shootings and suicides,” said Reed. “Florida’s U.S. senators are both leading here. This bill would provide family members and law enforcement with an opportunity to partner up to keep guns away from people who have exhibited serious, documented signs of danger to themselves or others.”
The federal proposal by the senators mirrors similar legislation at the state level, which is often referred to as a “red flag” law. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have “red flag” laws on the books.
According to the federal bill, “A family or household member of an individual, or a law enforcement officer, may submit a petition to a State or tribal court” describing “the facts and circumstances necessitating that an extreme risk protection order be issued against” a person who “poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to himself or herself or others” by possessing “a firearm or ammunition.”
To issue the extreme risk protection order against someone, the court may consider “relevant evidence,” such as a recent threat of violence against someone else; evidence of a serious mental illness; whether the person was convicted of domestic violence; the stalking of another person; and whether the person abuses drugs or alcohol.
After receiving the petition, the court may immediately issue a temporary extreme risk protection order but a hearing (in court or by telephone) is also required to extend that temporary order or to vacate it.
If the order is granted, the local police are allowed to confiscate the person’s firearms, ammunition, and any concealed-carry license. If and when the order is ever vacated, the police are required to return the firearms to the person.
If the person targeted in the order requests a hearing to end the order, the court must hold one within 30 days. At the hearing, the person targeted must show “clear and convincing evidence” that he no longer poses a threat to anyone by possessing a gun.
In February, the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action commented on similar “red flag” legislation in Texas.
“These bills could allow a court to require an individual to surrender firearms to law enforcement, based on statements made by a petitioner in an ex parte proceeding -- before any formal hearing with the opportunity to be represented by counsel and present counter-evidence -- and even though they may not have committed or even threatened to commit any unlawful or violent act,” said the pro-Second Amendment organization.
“Someone could be stripped of their Second Amendment rights without due process, without being taken into custody for any criminal offense or without being required to undergo evaluation for treatment by a mental health professional,” said the NRA.
Brady United, a gun control organization, strongly supports extreme risk protection laws. On its website, Brady United says, “Extreme risk laws help prevent a person in crisis from harming themselves or others by temporarily removing guns and prohibiting the purchase of firearms.”
As to whether the “red flag” laws work, Brady United said, “A study of Connecticut’s extreme risk law from 1999 to 2013 found that 99 percent of extreme risk orders resulted in the removal of at least one gun. Law enforcement removed, on average, seven guns per individual.
“In 44 percent of cases, the extreme risk order led to the respondent receiving psychiatric treatment they may not have otherwise received. Researchers estimated that one suicide was averted per every 10-11 extreme risk orders issued.”
During Tuesday’s hearing, Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), said, “I really can’t see a reason why we can’t pursue this at the federal level. To incentivize states to do what others are already doing. The benefits are enormous, if you can stop just one [shooting]… and there has to be due process, we all get that.”
When asked by CNSNews.com for a comment on the legislation, Marjorie Taylor Greene — a pro-Second Amendment activist from Georgia who was present at the hearing — said, “It has very slippery language in there. It talks about ‘others’ and others is a broad term that could be applied to any person in this country.”
She also said the legislation “talks about mental illness … but it doesn’t define mental illness. That could be applied to our veterans in our country, where 37% of them have a PTSD diagnosis.”
Bob Barr, a former congressman and former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, spoke to CNSNews.com concerning the legislation.
The proposal “opens the door to an idea that has some merit, but it also opens the door to potential abuse to one of the most fundamental rights in this county,” said Barr. “It requires the most careful of thought.”
The removal of firearms “ought to be considered only in the most extreme circumstances,” he said. “Are there not already mechanisms that have not already been put in place? …. It would be inappropriate to look at Parkland [shooting]” and “alter our judicial structure because of what happened [since there] were many danger signs.”