Red flag laws stop shootings, a lesson Maine could have learned from California

Bre Allard holds her children, Zeke and Lucy, after placing signs and crosses outside Sparetime Bowling Alley to show support for the community in the wake of this week's mass shootings, Saturday, October 8.  August 28, 2023, in Lewiston, Maine.  Lewiston residents are beginning a path to healing after a man suspected of killing several people earlier this week was found dead.  The bowling alley was renamed Just-In-Time Recreation in 2021.  (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

(Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press)

Red flag laws stop shootings, a lesson Maine could have learned from California

California politics, homepage news, mental health

George Skelton

November 6, 2023

The crazed gunman who killed 18 people and injured 13 others in Lewiston, Maine


probably couldn’t have committed his mass shooting in California. That’s because our red flag law certainly could have prevented the massacre.

This is the opinion of State Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta and UC firearms researcher Garen Wintemute. Their reasoning makes sense.

California’s red flag law allows family members, domestic partners, anxious exes, co-workers and teachers to report someone who is acting creepy and perhaps threatening to shoot up a place. The police will investigate and a judge may order that the person’s weapons be confiscated.

But the law is underused. Many people are naturally reluctant to participate. They are often afraid of riding a brute. Law enforcement agencies may also not want to bother because they think it is too much trouble. They are already overloaded. Some may even disagree with the idea of ​​confiscating guns from men.

We need more trained law enforcement officers to confiscate firearms from people deemed too dangerous to own them. That would require the governor and Legislature to allocate far more money for the potentially dangerous task.

But it would be an excellent use of taxpayer money that saves lives.

The Maine shooter was an example of the use of the red flag law, said Wintemute, director of the UC Firearms Violence Research Program.

We pioneered it in California. It is specifically intended for crises like this. This is much less likely [mass shooting] would have happened in California.

Bonta goes even further.

This tragedy would not have happened in California, the attorney general says bluntly. It would have been easy to request a gun ban under the red flag law.

Conditions were certainly ripe for that in Maine. The shooter almost screamed for help.

Several states have some version of a red flag law. But not Maine, a sparsely populated state with a hunting culture where guns are often part of the family. Maine has a yellow flag law, the only one in the country.

The yellow flag is much more cumbersome than California’s red flag. There are more hoops to jump through before a creepy kid’s weapons can be confiscated.

In Maine, a local law enforcement agency must take a person into custody and order a mental health evaluation before a judge can be asked to temporarily take away their weapons. In California, there is no requirement for arrest, nor a mental health exam. The person’s actions and words speak for themselves.

We balance due process and the rights of the individual with the safety of the community, says Bonta. A judge decides.

Robert Card, 40, the Maine gunman who ultimately committed suicide, was in the Army Reserve. He began behaving erratically this summer, telling people he had heard voices and accusing fellow reservists of calling him a pedophile. He pushed one of them away. State police took him to a psychiatric hospital where he spent two weeks.

Then Card threatened to shoot up an Army reserve drill center.

This man did everything but put an ad on the front page of the newspaper saying he was going to commit an atrocity, says Mark Collins, policy director at Brady, a gun violence prevention organization.

Two deputies went to the Cards trailer in mid-September. His car was there and the officers heard someone moving in the caravan. But no one opened the door. They left.

Officers had no legal authority to press the case if Card wouldn’t open the door, the local sheriff later told reporters. The case was effectively dismissed.

On Oct. On October 25, Card shot up a bowling alley and a nearby restaurant and bar, killing and maiming.

In California, the red flag law has prevented at least 58 mass shootings in the past three years, according to researchers at UC Davis. In 80% of cases, they reported, mass shooters tell family members or friends in advance about their malicious intentions. Or they talk about it on social media. That’s when the red flag law could come into effect.

California also has another gun sizing program that Bonta’s Justice Department says is the only such program in the country.

Under this law, government officials can raid the home of someone who is legally prohibited from possessing weapons and confiscate their firearms. These prohibited individuals include people who have been convicted of a misdemeanor or violent crime, or who have a domestic violence restraining order, or who suffer from a serious mental illness.

Last year, the state collected 1,427 such firearms per family member


handful compared

to with

the illegal arsenals are undoubtedly out there.

Confiscating guns from dangerous boys under both the local red flag law and the state program is risky for deputies. It is not a solo work. Maybe half a dozen armed officers are needed. It’s not an attractive position to recruit for.

This is difficult, says Wintemute. Someone is in crisis. He has weapons. And someone else has to try to take them away. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we leave it alone. Lives are at stake.

Last year, Governor Gavin Newsom and the Legislature approved $40 million to help enforce the red flag law, particularly in the area of ​​domestic violence


fallen. Relatively little money well spent.

California’s red flag law will not prevent all mass shootings. This is a gun-addicted America after all, we were immersed in deadly toys.

But because of California’s strict gun controls, it remains that way

proportionate proportionally

fewer gun deaths than the rest of America. And our bowling alleys and bars will be safer than in other states.


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