The Alabama legislature is considering a bill that would allow people to be stripped of their right to purchase or possess guns if they are deemed by a court to be a danger to themselves or others.
House Bill 265, called the Gun Violence Protective Order Act, sponsored by State Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, is a “red flag” bill similar to others passed across the country.
Coleman’s bill would create a measure allowing the court to prevent a person deemed a threat to themselves or others from owning or buying a firearm for one year. The bill, if signed into law, would require the surrender of all firearms and ammunition and would allow law enforcement to search the residence for firearms and ammunition.
Family members, law enforcement officers or educators could request a gun violence protective order, which the court could issue immediately without notice to the person it concerned, based solely on information and testimony from the petitioner. This is called an ex parte gun violence protective order. Coleman said some of her Republican colleagues took issue with this portion of the bill.
Gun rights advocates also took issue with it.
“We can’t let somebody take away a constitutional right without there being some kind of checks in place. We’ve got laws provide due process. The ‘red flag’ laws go around that,” said Eddie Fulmer of Bama Carry, an Alabama-based gun rights group.
Fulmer said “red flag” laws leave room for family members to request a protective order based on false information about threats that could result in someone losing their right to own a gun.
“It’s a big thing to take away someone’s constitutional right,” he said.
However, Fulmer said he would support a measure that would remove guns from someone deemed mentally ill by a mental health professional. Removing guns based on claims made by relatives is something he said he can’t support.
Coleman said she’s optimistic the legislature can work out a bill appropriate for Alabama.
“I want to give them the opportunity to work through it and see if something we can pass. I am optimistic I have opened their hearts and minds,” she said.
The bill remains in the civil subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, so the exact language of the bill isn’t final.
The legislation is modeled after other “red flag” bills enacted across the country. Such bills in other states have received bipartisan support.
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted “red flag” laws, including California, Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.
Coleman said she hopes Alabama will not wait for a mass shooting to pass the law, as some other states did.
“These bills are usually passed following a tragedy. Do we have to wait until we have a mass shooting in the state of Alabama, or even another suicide situation? Do we have to wait until the tragedy to do something?” Coleman said.
The Alabama Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense strongly supports the bill and testified on its behalf in the legislature last week.
“We believe that family, teachers and law enforcement are the ones that can spot a dangerous situation early. ‘Red flag’ laws and gun violence protective orders are a tool for family to be able to act,” said Dana Ellis, chapter leader of the Alabama chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense. “Two-thirds of gun deaths right now are suicides. If a family could take action and save a family member’s life, how critical is that? If a teacher was concerned about a kid, this kind of legislation can save lives.”
Frederick Vars, a professor at the Culverhouse School of Law at the University of Alabama, said research on “red flag” bills suggests they are effective at preventing gun suicides. He pointed to a study on Connecticut’s “red flag” law which was enacted in 1999. The study suggested one suicide was averted for every 10 to 11 gun seizure cases.
Another study found the law was associated in a 14 percent reduction in firearm suicide rates in Connecticut and a 7.5 percent reduction in the firearm suicide rate in Indiana, according to Everytown.
“The bill is difficult. There are legitimate arguments on both sides, especially with taking away guns from someone who would otherwise have a legal right to a firearm,” Vars said. “How do you value that one life versus wrongly seizing guns from people who wouldn’t suicide or misuse guns? Weighing a temporary infringement, versus the potential of saving lives, I would strike the balance in favor of lives.”
Bobby Timmons, the executive director of the Alabama Sheriff’s Association, said he hadn’t personally examined all the language of HB 265, but he said something has to be done to notify law enforcement of a person who might pose a danger.
He mentioned the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida, and the uproar about “warning signs” or “red flags” people noticed, but failed to report to proper authorities.
“The main thing is bringing people back to sensibility. If you know a kid will go into the school and shoot, tell someone. Don’t be afraid. Tell it before it happens. Less said best said, but not if you know something that’s criminally intent,” Timmons said.
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Timmons said he’s interested to see more about the effectiveness of these “red flag” bills.
“If it ends up being a good thing, and it is good to correct crime, then good. If not, let’s see where it fell,” he said.
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