Gun Advocates Are Not Happy About Trump Advocating For Risk Protection Orders

Mar 12, 2018
Originally published on March 13, 2018 10:02 am
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We begin this hour with a look at President Trump's first formal policy response to last month's deadly shooting in Parkland, Fla. He's created a new commission to make recommendations on school safety. We'll hear more about that in a moment. He's also endorsed federal legislation to improve background checks, and he's renewed his call for letting teachers carry guns and act as volunteer marshals. Gun control advocates generally have slammed the president's plan, but they do like one piece of it - a push for so-called red-flag protection orders. NPR's Scott Horsley has details.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Red-flag orders allow police to temporarily take guns away from people who've been found by a judge to pose a threat to themselves or others. Connecticut adopted the nation's first such law nearly two decades ago. Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal says it's worked.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: The Connecticut experience over the last nearly 20 years has been that these extreme-risk protection orders or red flag really save lives.

HORSLEY: So far, only a handful of states have followed Connecticut's example - California, Oregon, Washington, Indiana. Florida passed its own red-flag law last week. Now President Trump is urging every state to do so. Kristin Brown of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says without such laws, police are often powerless to stop a would-be killer like the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

KRISTIN BROWN: It's really a slap in the face - the idea that there were so many signs associated with this individual that should've meant that he was not able to possess or purchase firearms.

HORSLEY: Dozens of states are considering red-flag laws. Blumenthal says the potential impact is broader than just school shootings.

BLUMENTHAL: These kinds of orders help prevent not just the mass slaughters but also the one-by-one shootings that account for a lot of the 90 deaths every day in the United States as a result of gun violence, including suicide.

HORSLEY: In fact, one of the big success stories in Connecticut has been preventing suicides which account for about two-thirds of all gun deaths in the country. Duke University professor Jeffrey Swanson has studied the Connecticut law and says about 60 percent of the red-flag orders sought are for someone at risk of taking his own life.

JEFFREY SWANSON: This could be - you know, we're worried about grandad. He's bereaved. He's all by himself, and he's drinking heavily. And we're worried about him. He has all these guns.

HORSLEY: Swanson estimates the Connecticut law saved one life for every 10 to 20 gun seizures. He says it makes sense to focus enforcement on those who pose an immediate threat.

SWANSON: It gives you a smaller haystack with a lot more needles in it.

HORSLEY: Red-flag laws are still controversial, though, with some gun rights advocates.

DUDLEY BROWN: Well, we call it gun-confiscation orders because it's largely confiscating firearms for people without due process.

HORSLEY: Dudley Brown heads the group Gun Owners of America [see correction below]. People whose guns are taken away do have an opportunity under red-flag laws to challenge the move in court, but Brown insists that should happen before their guns are seized, not after.

BROWN: Otherwise, a family member whose angry at a uncle or ex-boyfriend or something can go to a court and have someone stripped of a constitutional right without ever even knowing it. And we think that's fraught with danger.

HORSLEY: The NRA did not respond to requests for comment today, but in the past, it's opposed these laws. Still, some prominent Republicans, including the president, are now speaking out in support of red-flag legislation. Researcher Jeffrey Swanson says that makes sense.

SWANSON: People from the Second Amendment community who've been saying for years, guns don't kill people; people kill people - well, this is the law that's focused on figuring out who those people are.

HORSLEY: Senator Blumenthal has joined forces with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham in calling for a federal red-flag law that would apply in all 50 states. So far, the president has not gotten behind that. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this story, we incorrectly identify Dudley Brown as head of Gun Owners of America. He is the president of the National Association for Gun Rights.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.