While a number of states have passed so-called “Red Flag” gun laws in an effort to give mental health and law enforcement officials a tool that they can use to fight gun violence, it's not clear whether those laws have had any effect. With Pennsylvania currently considering its own form of a Red Flag law, it's worth taking the time to understand what these laws do and how they work.
Removing Guns From People with Serious Mental Health Issues
A typical Red Flag law provides standards that police and courts can use to determine whether an order should issue that prevents a particular individual from having access to firearms for a limited period of time. There must be a showing made to the court that the person poses a danger to themselves or to other people before the order can issue, and the individual can contest the order. Orders are not permanent but can be renewed.
Questions Regarding Effectiveness
While 19 states and the District of Columbia have enacted some form of Red Flag, it's not clear that the laws are either widely used or effective in reducing overall gun violence. With the tens of thousands of deaths each year due to gun violence in the US, some experts believe that the relatively small number of times that Red Flag laws have been used means that the effect of the laws is “infinitesimal,” “as if the law doesn't exist.”
Even in places such as Suffolk County, New York, which uses New York's Red Flag law much more aggressively than many other areas, there does not appear to be a significant difference in gun death rates compared with other counties in New York.
Pennsylvania's Latest Proposed Red Flag Law
The Pennsylvania House may vote this year on House Bill 1018, which would allow courts to order someone who is “the subject of an active extreme risk protection order” to turn over their firearms to law enforcement. An “extreme risk protection order” would be a specific type of court order prohibiting a particular person from having or buying a firearm “based upon a finding that the person presents a substantial risk of suicide or of causing the death of, or serious bodily injury to, another person.”
Red flag orders could be requested by law enforcement or by “a family or household member” of the person against whom the order was requested. The proposed Red Flag law would include a hearing process. The person who was the target of the requested order would be entitled to counsel, including to a public defender, in the event they cannot afford counsel. Evidence to support the order would include suicide threats or attempts; threats or acts of violence; attempted violence; domestic abuse; cruelty to animals; substance abuse; unlawful or reckless use of a firearm; or the person's recent acquisition or attempted acquisition of a firearm.
Red flag orders issued after a full hearing would be effective for at least three months but not for more than one year. The person against whom the order was issued could petition the court at any time to terminate the order, and law enforcement or family or household members could petition to extend it.
While House Bill 1018 may be approved by Pennsylvania's Democratic-majority House, it is opposed by a number of Republicans, and its Senate version may not be as successful.
What to Do if You've Been Accused of a Firearm Crime in Pennsylvania
As with most states, Pennsylvania's firearms laws are complicated, and if you're not careful, you may find yourself charged with a crime despite your efforts to obey the law. If that happens to you, you need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team have been helping Pennsylvanians defend themselves from criminal prosecution for gun law violations for years. They understand the laws, the criminal court procedures, and how to fight to protect your rights. Call Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Team today at 888.535.3686 or use the online form to schedule a confidential consultation with the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team to find out how they can help you.