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How Is Florida's New 'Red Flag' Gun Law Working?

Red flag warnings were part of the Legislature's response to the Parkland shooting. They allow police to ask a judge to temporarily take guns away from someone if they're deemed dangerous by law enforcement.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The gun legislation passed after the Parkland mass shooting was historic for many reasons, not the least of which was that it represented the first gun restrictions passed in Florida in more than 20 years. 

One of the provisions of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, signed into law by Governor Rick Scott on March 9, allows police officers to ask a judge for permission to temporarily take away the guns of someone they believe poses a threat to themselves or others. Critics argue this process, known as red flag warnings, ignores some of the Constitutional rights of gun owners.  

Since the law was enacted, police in Broward County have used the red flag warning dozens of times, according to the Miami New Times

Tom Hudson, host of The Florida Roundup, sits down New Times' reporter Jessica Lipscomb to talk about her investigation into the new law. 

WLRN: So, this came into effect in mid-march and you looked at several months worth of records in Broward County, what did you find? 

In Broward County, which is apparently the county with the most petitions filed, they had 108 through the end of July, which is a pretty significant number. And we had 28 cases where the person was accused of domestic violence, 45 people who were suffering from mental illness and 34 people who were contemplating suicide. 

How does this red flag warning differ from the Baker Act? 

So, in some cases these petitions do arise after someone is Baker Acted but it gives the courts the ability to take someone's guns for a longer period of time, for up to one year. How it worked before this law was passed was that if you were Baker Acted there wasn't really a lot in the law that talked about how you should get your guns back if the police seize them from you. It was sort of a gray area. Some police departments would take them and then you might have to take them to court to  get your guns back but this formalizes it. 

It is temporary, correct?

It goes up to one year and then at the end of that year period it goes back before the judge and the judge can either decide to give that person their guns back or keep them for another year. 

How is someone to defend him or herself if they think they've been unfairly targeted by a red flag warning? 

When this happens temporarily the police will come once they get a judge to sign-off on the temporary order and take your guns and then after 14 days it goes to a hearing and that's when you can make your case to the judge as to why you think you should be able to keep your gun. Now, unlike criminal cases, there's no lawyer appointed for somebody who can't afford one. So, that's one criticism that some people have with the law is that some people that the ability to pay for their own lawyer will have to represent themselves. 

Is that the due process criticism among others as well as that 14 day stretch that somebody could be without their firearm under this red flag warning?

Exactly. It's just a fear that since a lot of these cases target people with mental illness, you're essentially asking someone with a mentally ill person to make their own case to the judge. 

This story was updated after the August 10, 2018 episode of The Florida Roundup.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Bridget O'Brien produces WLRN's The Florida Roundup as well as morning newscasts. A long-time public radio geek, she feels that audio journalism can take a story beyond text and allows listeners to truly connect through the power of voice. With a background in drama, she brings a theatrical element to everything she does.
In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.