The warnings about Florida student Nikolas Cruz seemed to flash like neon signs: expulsion from school, fighting with classmates, a fascination with weapons and hurting animals, disturbing images and comments posted to social media, as well as mental health treatment.
In Florida, that wasn’t enough for relatives, authorities or his schools to request a judicial order barring him from possessing guns, the Associated Press reports. Only five states have laws enabling family members, guardians or police to ask judges to strip gun rights temporarily from people who show warning signs of violence. Supporters of these measures, called “red flag laws” or gun-violence restraining orders, say they can save lives by stopping some shootings and suicides.
Florida, where Cruz is accused of using an AR-15 assault weapon to kill 17 people at his former high school, lacks such a law. Cruz was able to own the semi-automatic rifle, even though his mother, classmates and teachers had described him as dangerous and threatening, and despite repeated police visits to his home. Red flag legislation has been introduced by Democratic Florida lawmakers, but it hasn’t been heard during this year’s session. Its fate is uncertain in a legislature controlled by Republicans who generally favor expanding gun rights.
After last Wednesday’s shooting, Republican Gov. Rick Scott said he would work to make sure people with mental illnesses don’t have access to guns, but he offered no specifics. Florida’s GOP Sen. Marco Rubio — facing criticism over accepting $3.3 million in career campaign cash through the National Rifle Association — now says state legislators should “absolutely” consider enacting a law enabling family members or law enforcement to ask a court to remove guns from a person who poses a danger. In 2014, California was the first state to enact such a law. Its legislature acted after a mentally ill man, Elliot Rodger, killed six students and wounded 13 others near the University of California, Santa Barbara, before killing himself.
Gun-rights activists say the laws can be used to take away rights from people who have not been convicted of crimes, nor professionally evaluated for mental illness. The NRA’s lobbying arm said the laws enable courts to remove Second Amendment rights “based on third-party allegations and evidentiary standards” lower than what’s required in criminal proceedings.