In the U.S., red flag laws authorize police or family members to petition state courts to temporarily remove firearms from a person deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. The order can also bar the person from purchasing guns.
This typically occurs when relatives or friends are concerned about a loved one who has discussed suicide or harming others and is in possessions of firearms.
Red flag laws are also called risk-based gun removal laws and go by several names:
- Extreme Risk Protection Orders (Oregon, Washington, Maryland, Vermont, Colorado)
- Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Orders (New Mexico)
- Risk Protection Orders (Florida)
- Gun Violence Restraining Orders (California)
- Risk warrants (Connecticut)
- Proceedings for the Seizure and Retention of a Firearm (Indiana)
Provisions for such laws vary state-to-state on matters such as
- Who can initiate the process,
- If a warrant is required
- What factors are considered for the firearms to be removed from possessions,
- How long the guns are restricted
- The process by which the individual may regain access to their guns.
The length of time that guns are restricted under these extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs) depends on the circumstances and can usually be extended.
Support for Red Flag Laws
Red flag laws are believed to help prevent mass shootings and suicides.
Almost two-thirds (61%) of U.S. gun deaths between 2008 and 2017 were suicides. Many believe that red flag laws could potentially prevent suicide. This benefit is considered to be more valuable than preventing mass shootings.
According to an APM survey, about 77% of Americans support family-initiated extreme risk protection orders and 70% support law enforcement-initiated ERPOs. Levels of support for ERPOs differs in several ways:
- Women are more likely than men to support ERPOs (83% vs. 70%)
- Higher educational attainment is associated with high levels of support for ERPOs
- A higher portion of metropolitan residents support ERPOs than do rural residents
While support percentages vary slightly across parties, a large majority of Democrats, Republicans, and independents support ERPOs. 78% of Democrats support police-initiated orders and 85% support family-initiated, compared to 66% and 70% respectively among Republicans).
Additionally, a majority of gun owners support ERPOs: 60% support police-initiated ERPOs and 67% support family-initiated ERPOs.
What States Have Red Flag Laws?
Before the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, only five states had red flag laws:
As of April 2020, 19 states and the District of Columbia have enacted a red flag law. The states that added red flag legislation since 2018 are:
- Rhode Island
- New Jersey
- District of Columbia
- New York
- New Mexico
Other state legislatures have proposed legislation, which has either been stalled, defeated, or vetoed. These states are:
Oklahoma is the only U.S. state that has an anti-red flag law. In 2020, Oklahoma passed this law that specifically “prohibits the state or any city, county, or political subdivision from enacting red flag laws.”