A 23-year-old man posted on Facebook, “I don’t know why I don’t go on a killing spree.” A couple shot up their home while high on cocaine. A 31-year-old man pointed a semiautomatic rifle at a motorcyclist. All four Florida residents had their guns taken away by judges under a “red flag” law the state passed three weeks after a mentally disturbed gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland two years ago, the Associated Press reports. The law has been applied more than 3,500 times since. Even so, the law’s use is inconsistent, with some counties and cities using it rarely and others not at all.
Advocates of the red flag measure say that before it existed, it was often difficult to remove firearms from those making threats or suffering severe mental breakdowns. Investigators did not act on reports that the Parkland shooter was threatening to carry out a school massacre. Even if they had, it is likely he would have been allowed to keep his guns because he had no felony convictions or involuntary, long-term mental commitments. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who leads a commission that investigated the massacre’s causes, says the shooter would have easily qualified for a red flag order. The law also has critics who say it violates the U.S. and state constitutions, including the right to bear arms, and others who argue that laws already on the books in Florida made it unnecessary. Others say it discriminates against the poor: Because the hearing with a judge is not a criminal proceeding, low-income defendants aren’t provided a free lawyer. Sixteen other states and the District of Columbia have similar laws, 11 of which were enacted after the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Stoneman Douglas.