'Red flag' law could take guns from those deemed dangerous in NC

Posted May 8, 2018 4:36 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 11:16 a.m. EDT

North Carolina lawmakers will have the chance to debate new gun control legislation when the General Assembly session begins next week.

The state could be the latest to introduce what is widely known as a "red flag" law or a "risk protection order." It would give authorities the right to temporarily take firearms from a person who is considered dangerous.

"You are getting judicial authority to do this, so it's not just willy-nilly run in and take guns," said Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham, a former judge who is introducing the bill. "You have to prove by an affidavit, a sworn affidavit, that you know and have direct knowledge that a person is in direct possession of guns."

North Carolina's version of the law would allow people like a family member, colleague or friend to petition a judge for an order. The guns would be taken for 10 days before the individual would have the chance to go in front of a judge to prove they should get their guns back.

"It's been on my mind for years, as I was a judge and I saw the loopholes and the problems in our existing laws. Many times, sitting in a courtroom, we would have witnesses testify or victims testify saying, 'I knew this person was dangerous. I knew this person was a threat. I didn't know what to do,'" Morey said.

Morey first brought up the idea a week after the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Since then, more states have either passed or considered similar legislation. Connecticut was the first to approve a red flag law back in 1999. Jeff Swanson, a Duke professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences, led a study on how the law has worked there.

"What we did is we got all of the data of the 762 people who had had their firearms removed and we matched their records to arrest records that had resulted in convictions and matched them to behavioral health records and matched them to death records," he said.

The research showed the law was particularly useful in preventing suicides, estimating that it stopped 70 people from ending their lives over a 14 month period.

"That gun removal action became a portal or a pathway into getting help for some people," Swanson said.

Opponents of this kind of law will point to the lack of due process, saying any removal of a gun is a violation of the Second Amendment. Currently, the NRA is showing some support for "red flag" laws. The organization released a video in March where lobbyist Chris W. Cox shared the NRA's position.

"We need to stop dangerous people before they act," he said. "So, Congress should provide funding for states to adopt risk protection orders."

Swanson, who has been studying the effectiveness of these laws for more than a decade, said it could be a good compromise between people who don't want anyone to have guns and others who want their rights protected.

"One way of putting it is, the Second Amendment community has been saying for years 'guns don't kill people. People kill people.' Well, here's a law to help you figure out who those people are."