This editorial first appeared in the Miami Herald.
In a world of active-shooter drills for 6-year-olds, of going to the mall — or to school, or the movies — with a twinge of fear, of declaring that “somebody ought to do something,” why would anyone want a deadly weapon in the hands of people whose troubling behavior might lead them to hurt themselves or others?
Even many staunch defenders of the Second Amendment agree that firearms and the potentially mentally ill should not mix.
That’s why we applaud Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal, which on Sept. 25 rejected a constitutional challenge to the state’s “red flag” law, which was enacted after the 2018 mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County.
Red flag laws, also called extreme risk laws, let law enforcement officers act on reports of someone displaying warning-sign behavior and take away their guns with an extreme risk protection order. The laws can stop mass shootings, homicides and suicides from occurring, and they have. They save lives.
And no, adrenaline-pumped cops don’t kick the door down, barge in and confiscate weapons from troubled people. Rather, they first petition the court to temporarily remove guns from dangerous situations.
And that scenario is what prompted the challenge to the law.
The Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office believed that one of its deputies, Jefferson Eugene Davis, posed a threat after he suspected that his girlfriend was cheating on him. The sheriff’s office filed a “risk protection owner” seeking the removal of Davis’ firearms.
A circuit judge approved the request, but Davis appealed, challenging the constitutionality of the red flag law, saying that he had a right to fully argue his case in court. But the court unanimously upheld the spirit of the state’s red flag law.
Across the state, about 2,000 guns have been confiscated from owners showing concerning behavior. Nikolas Cruz exhibited such warning signs, and now stands accused of storming into Stoneman Douglas High School and killing 17 students and teachers and injuring 17 more on Valentine’s Day 2018.
After the shooting, angry students from the school who had lived through the horrific massacre and their ardent supporters from across the state marched on Tallahassee, forcing reluctant Florida lawmakers to take a stand. Legislators passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act, which includes a red flag law.
Since Parkland, at least 12 states and the District of Columbia have passed red flag laws. That’s good news in a country where gun laws are at a minimum. In the wake of high-profile shootings in Ohio and Texas, more state lawmakers are considering such laws, as are some members of Congress.
The court was right to affirm: People who are extremely emotionally disturbed, even for a brief time, should not be allowed to possess guns. And law enforcement has the right to intervene.