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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Study: California’s Red Flag Law May Help Prevent Mass Shootings

 August 21, 2019 at 11:08 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 The concept behind California's red flag laws are simple. If you remove guns from people who were found to be dangerous to the public, there should be fewer instances of gun violence, but since the law enacted in 2016 is so new, it's been hard to know if that concept has been working. Now the first study of red flag laws in California, it has been released and it's findings indicate that the laws may be working to reduce the chances of mass shootings. The studies results may help support efforts to enact national red flag laws. Jordan, we as Dr Garren winter moot, he's lead author of the study and director of the Violence Research Prevention Program at UC Davis School of medicine and Garren. Welcome to the program. Thanks for having me. How did you go about conducting a study on the red flag law? What did you look at? Speaker 2: 00:51 We have a list of all the cases in which these orders were issued during 2016 to 18 the first three years of the policy being in effect, we're in the process of getting records from the courts where the orders were issued and that's where our data come from. As those records were coming in, we found frankly unexpectedly that they were being used fairly often in efforts to prevent mass shootings and so we added an element to our project and focused on as it has turned out so far, the 21 cases in which mass shootings, where the violence that the order was intended to prevent and the study simply describes what happened in those 21 cases. Speaker 1: 01:39 How serious were the threats of these mass shootings in some of those 21 cases? Could you give us perhaps one or two examples? Speaker 2: 01:47 Sure. One involved a disgruntled former employee. We have several of those who made a very credible threats to kill his coworkers and shoot up the workplace. One of the employees of that company contacted law enforcement who did their due diligence and discovered as best they could tell. This gentleman did not own any firearms, but he had just purchased a 12 gauge shotgun. We have a 10 day waiting period in California that was ticking away. It was during that 10 day waiting period that law enforcement went to. The judge made the case. The judge issued the order. Law enforcement contacted the dealer and said, don't you release that firearm? And the man never acquired the shotgun. When they searched his house, they did not find any firearms, but they found 400 rounds of ammunition for that shotgun. Speaker 1: 02:42 I guess my question though is does the fact that there were no mass acts of violence or shootings in any of those 21 cases, does that prove that they'll red flag law works? Speaker 2: 02:53 No, it does not. And this is really important. Thank you for the question. We can't prove that the orders made the difference. What we have is there was a threat. Firearms were part of what, uh, created an elevated risk. The firearms were recovered or purchases were blocked and those events did not occur. We know in general that threats of mass shootings are much more common than mass shootings. And we're all very grateful for that. So we can't say that zero out of 21 if you will, is a departure from expectation. I, I don't think that we will get better data. We'll probably see more cases, but to really prove it, we'd have to do a randomized trial. Now this is a thought experiment. Let me, let me walk through why this will never be done. We would have to take some large number of people who threatened mass violence and had firearms and in half those cases do something to recover the firearms and in the other half of the cases simply let events proceed. Speaker 2: 04:05 That's just not going to happen. I understand your point. Now. Gun groups have raised concerns about red flag laws and fringing on due process rights. Did your work, did your study reveal any downsides to California? The Red Flag Law? Well, let's, let's stick with due process. Um, due process is built into every s every provision of the law, which by the way, I, I helped draft. So there is no such thing as a restraining order without the involvement of a judge. Even at three in the morning, there is a formal conversation. It is a transcribed by a court reporter. I've read the transcripts, it's part of the court record. The orders that are more common that require a petition also require the judge to follow specified rules of evidence in emergency situations. There isn't a hearing, it's an emergency. We need to do something within hours. Um, but the emergency and the temporary orders only last for three weeks. Speaker 2: 05:10 If there's going to be a longer term order, a hearing is required and the burden of proof is on the person requesting the order to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence. That's the phrase in the law that the order is worthwhile. And we've seen cases where those petitions were filed in the orders were not granted. And finally I'll mention there was concerned about the possibility of abuse in California from the beginning I think. And so we went back and added provisions to the law. It is a crime in California to file such a petition based on false information or with the intent to harass someone. Now based on the results of your study, what would you say to policymakers who are currently debating what to do about guns in this country and debating about whether to enact national red flag laws? I would say this, we can't prove that the orders work, but if somebody were to ask me the next time we're faced with such a situation, elevated risk, firearms, a credible threat, should we do something to recover the firearms? Speaker 2: 06:21 I would say absolutely the, the nation is riveted by mass shootings. We learned from a new survey a couple of days ago that 25% of the population is significantly concerned and has changed the way they conduct themselves in public. These events are changing the character of American life and not for the better. In situations like that policy makers, we as individuals have an obligation to do what we can based on the best evidence available. At the time I've been speaking with Dr Garren, Winton [inaudible] is director of the Violence Research Prevention Program at UC Davis School of medicine and thank you very much for your time and information. Thanks again for having me. Speaker 1: 07:07 The city of San Diego was leading the state in the number of gun violence restraining orders filed by the court. In response to the red flag law, San Diego counties, gun owners group made a statement which said, in part conceptually, we agree that dangerous people should not have access to weapons, but the way gun violence restraining orders are being implemented in California and specifically by San Diego city. Attorney Mara Elliott provides few protections and could become rife with abuse. Executive Director, Michael Schwartz also said, if someone is breaking the law, law enforcement already has the ability to confiscate firearms.

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In 2016, California became the first state in the nation to implement a red flag law. It allows family members or law enforcement to ask a judge to temporarily remove guns from individuals who may pose a threat to themselves or others.
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