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Lawmakers Propose ‘Red Flag’ Laws After Mass Shootings: Effect Remains Unclear

Lawmakers are facing increased public pressure to take action and stop the gun violence after two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio killed 31 people over the past weekend. 

President Donald Trump and congressional members of both parties appear eager to take up the issues this fall, but whether any of the proposed legislation will make America safer remains unclear. 

One proposal that is receiving bipartisan support is extreme risk protection orders, more commonly referred to as “red flag” laws. These laws, which are already in effect across 17 states and the District of Columbia, gives courts the authority to issue temporary orders to confiscate the firearms of individuals deemed to be a risk to themselves and others. 

Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday rolled out a 17-point plan to reduce gun violence in his state, included in his plan is a ‘red flag’ law.

“Today, I’m asking the legislature to pass a law to allow courts to issue safe protection orders,” DeWine said during a press conference. “These orders, which will be granted upon clear and convincing evidence, will allow the removal of firearms from potentially dangerous individuals and get them the mental health treatment that they need, get them whatever help that they need.”

On the federal level, Sens. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., are working on a bipartisan bill that would encourage more states to adopt “red flag” laws.

“Many of these shootings involved individuals who showed signs of violent behavior that are either ignored or not followed up,” Graham said in a statement on Monday. “State Red Flag laws will provide the tools for law enforcement to do something about many of these situations before it’s too late.”

Trump on Friday told reporters that there is “tremendous support” for common-sense background checks. 

“We don’t want people that are mentally ill, people that are sick, we don’t want them having guns. Who does?” he said. “I think a lot of meaningful progress on background checks will take place, including red flags and other very important items.”

Even though some states have implemented red flag laws for more than a decade, their effectiveness in preventing mass shootings or homicides is unclear. An area in which these types of laws have shown effective is suicides. A 2018 study in Psychiatric Services found gun-related suicides fell significantly after the passage of extreme risk protection laws in Indiana and Connecticut. 

In Indiana, gun-related suicides fell 7.5% over the course of a decade, while in Connecticut the rate dropped 13.7%. About 60% of firearms deaths are suicides, according to the Department of Justice.

While there is no clear evidence that protection orders reduce gun violence, pro-gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, which is backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said that red flag laws have been invoked several times to prevent potential violence against schools.

An analysis by the group of mass shootings from 2009 to 2017 revealed that in 51 percent of incidents the shooter exhibited warning signs that they posed a risk to themselves or others before the shooting.

The United States has the 28th-highest rate of deaths from gun violence in the world: 4.43 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017 — far greater than what is seen in other wealthy countries, the latest annual report on gun violence from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation showed.

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