A law passed three weeks after a mentally disturbed man killed 17 people in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. two years ago has been applied more than 3,500 times already, with the pace accelerating during the latter half of 2019.
An Associated Press analysis of the law reported by Local 10 News, which had bipartisan support despite continuing to be highly controversial, showed its use is inconsistent. Some counties and cities are using it rarely and others not at all.
Advocates of Florida’s red flag legislation say that before it existed, it was often difficult to disarm people who had made threats or were suffering severe mental breakdowns. Critics say it makes the removal of Second-Amendment rights too easy.
Authorities did not act on reports that the Parkland shooter was threatening a school massacre. Even if they had, though, it is likely he would have been allowed to keep his guns because he had no felony convictions or involuntary, long-term mental commitments, they say.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who leads a commission that investigated the massacre’s causes, said the shooter would have easily qualified for a red flag order. Gualtieri says while it is impossible to say that would have prevented the shooting, the gunman wouldn’t have been able to legally buy weapons or ammunition.
“We have needed this law for decades,” said Gualtieri, who started a unit in his department that handles only red flag cases.
But the law also has vocal critics: those who say it violates the U.S. and state constitutions, including the right to bear arms, and others who argue that laws already on the books in Florida made it unnecessary. Still others say it discriminates against the poor: Because the hearing with a judge is not a criminal proceeding, low-income defendants aren’t provided with a free lawyer.