Could Florida have something to teach the country about gun control?
Federal lawmakers are considering a law that would encourage states to implement systems through which courts can remove weapons from people who may be harmful to themselves or others. The state-level measures are called extreme risk protection orders, or red flag laws.
Florida passed a Red Flag Law as part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act following the school shooting there in February 2018.
Earlier this week, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw was in Washington, D.C., at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to discuss the new federal legislation and share lessons learned.
Bradshaw joined Sundial to talk about the proposed legislation and how it's being implemented in Palm Beach County.
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WLRN: You've reportedly said that if the Red Flag Law had been in place before the [Parkland] shooting it might have prevented the massacre. How sure are you of that?
BRADSHAW: Well the question was posed by Senator Graham to all four of the panelists. He says, 'Do you think that would have helped prevent it?' And the answer was 'yes' by all of us. It would have given the ability for the people that were there to actually have a process to seize the firearms.
Now you've got to understand that the risk-protection orders are not something that law enforcement uses just to take everybody's guns. The Second Amendment is quite clear. I'm a big proponent of the Second Amendment, but my statement after that, which is backed up by the individual there for the National Institute of Mental Health, [was]: 'It's not so much the instrument that is the problem. It's whose hands you put the instrument in.' It could be a car, a rock, a knife, a pressure cooker, a gun, whatever it is ... if you have somebody that's unstable that has the propensity to commit violence it doesn't matter [what] the weapon [is]. I tried to get them back on track to say this is not a gun control issue as much as it is taking weapons out of the hands of people that have shown the propensity to go commit violence.
How do you prove that you can prevent a crime? As a law enforcement officer, do you have a way of saying, 'I have a good feeling that this person is a threat?'
No, and that's why I created the [Behavior Services] unit five years ago. It's important to understand the composition of this unit because the average deputy on the street, even though they go through basic training, they're not mental health professionals. They can't make that analysis of the individual that [they're] dealing with as well as a trained mental health professional [could]. When I created this unit I realized I already had people in place that were deputies that either had a master's or a Ph.D. in psychology or social services but I needed a mental health professional to be the second part of the team. I hired local mental health professionals to be part of a team. So the deputy makes up one person and his partner is a mental health professional.
Let's talk about the mechanics of how this law works.
If you go back and you read the data and the analysis of all of these "mass casualties," the shooter and the people that are involved in this at some point in time had exhibited or expressed the intent to do these things. How many times afterwards [do we see them] interview people who say, 'well geez we know that was going to happen' but they didn't tell anybody?
We're getting better at creating these avenues for information to come to ... law enforcement. We created an app that we give out to the public and students where they can anonymously say 'we know of one of our fellow students, he's got a gun or he's talking about this or he's depressed and he said that he's going to go do bad things.' We get the information that's based on other people telling us about how they feel about somebody that's in their environment that is exhibiting behavior that threatens them, then we go to the location where the person is and actually confront them and say 'why are you doing this? Why are you feeling like this?' That's where the behavioral sciences unit comes in rather than just an average deputy [going] to that scene.