Could ‘Red Flag’ Laws Reduce Gun Violence Among the Elderly?

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Photo by Grzegorz (Greg) Cinkowski via Flickr

Although the recent development of red flag laws across several states is intended to prevent mass gun violence, these laws also have the potential to reduce gun violence among older adults, according to a research paper published in Arizona Legal Studies.

More than 30 states have introduced or plan to introduce red flag laws, also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders. These laws allow law enforcement⸺and, in eight states, family or household members⸺to file a petition for a court order to temporarily remove a person’s access to guns when they show “red flags” in exhibiting dangerous behavior.

Tara Sklar, a health law professor at the University of Arizona, surveyed the 13 states that have enacted variations of red flag laws, and examined how these laws could be applied to older adults. He concluded that the most effective laws in regard to protecting older adults are those that allow family members and health professionals to file court orders rather than giving law enforcement and state attorneys sole authority.

“The red flag laws that limit petitioners to law enforcement only, or in Vermont’s case the state’s attorney or the office of the attorney general, may be too restrictive for families and household members of elderly gun owners who are much closer to observing a pattern of violent behavior,” Sklar wrote.

Sklar argued a key positive element in the passage of state red flag laws was that they encouraged family members and health professionals to have a conversation about aging and the escalated risk of violence when elderly people suffering from associated health or behavioral problems had access to guns.

Suicide in late life is a growing issue across America.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that older adults commit suicide at a disproportionately higher rate compared to the general population. Men aged 65 and over are more likely to commit suicide than Americans of all other age groups, and three-quarters of them use a gun.

This year, a study found red flag laws in Connecticut and Indiana have been effective for preventing gun violence among older adults when they may be at risk of committing harm to themselves. The authors found a nearly 14 percent reduction in suicides with a gun in Connecticut since 2007.

Indiana’s red flag law was associated with 7.5 fewer suicides following the law’s passage in 2005.

The number of states with red flag laws has doubled since the mass school shooting in Parkland, Fl., in February 2018. Over a quarter of states have enacted such laws.

Aside from red flag laws, there is no clear legal process to restrict access to guns, even temporarily, for non-mentally ill people displaying dangerous behavior.

“Until there is federal action, states will likely continue to draft and pass red flag laws or similar variations,” Sklar writes.

A copy of the report can be downloaded here.

J. Gabriel Ware is a TCR news intern. Readers’  comments are welcome.

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