Do “Red Flag” Laws Stop Mass Homicides? Maybe Not


Do “Red Flag” Laws Stop Mass Homicides? Maybe Not

INDIANAPOLIS—While many states have passed “red flag” gun laws in the aftermath of mass shootings, there is no actual data to support these laws reduce homicides.

“Every state that’s put a “red flag” law on the books has done so in response to a homicide, usually a mass homicide,” said Aaron Kivisto, associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Indianapolis. “And to date, we have no research that has looked at whether these laws have any effect on homicide let alone mass homicide.”

Indiana’s law allows law enforcement to seize and temporarily keep firearms from mentally unstable or dangerous individuals without a warrant or judge’s signature.

After the seizure, an officer is required to submit a written statement to the court describing why the person is considered dangerous. Judges then have 14 days to review seizures, and gun owners have an opportunity to make their case to recover their weapons.

If the court finds probable cause that the individual poses a danger to himself or the community, law enforcement keeps custody of the guns, and if not, they are returned to their owner.

In 2018, Kivisto published a study on Indiana’s and Connecticut’s “red flag” gun laws. Connecticut was the first state to enact the law in 1999, and Indiana was the second to pass similar legislation in 2005 after an Indianapolis Police Department officer, Jake Laird, was killed in a south-side shooting by Kenneth Anderson.

After the shooting, it was discovered that earlier that year police had put Anderson under”immediate detention,” which is when law enforcement takes someone with a mental illness who may be a danger to a hospital.

A number of weapons and ammunition were also seized by police.

After Anderson’s release from the hospital, officers had to return his weapons and ammunition. That was five months before Anderson shot and killed Laird.

Today, 17 states and Washington D.C. have passed some form of a “red flag” gun law.

Kivisto’s study examined whether the law reduced gun suicide rates in both states.

“In the 10 years following the passage of our gun seizure law, we saw a 7.5% decrease in gun suicide compared to what we would have expected had no law been passed,” he said.

In Connecticut, there was no significant change until after 2007 when a shooting happened at Virginia Tech. After the shooting, Kivisto said law enforcement started to actually use the law and there was a 13.7% reduction in gun suicides.

Kivisto said researchers have reasons to believe “red flag” gun laws reduce homicide, but they don’t have direct data.

Most recently, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he would like to see the state pass a “red flag” law in response to a shooting in Dayton.

Kivisto said many states pass “red flag” gun laws after a mass shooting because “it’s something that can be done.”

“It has relatively bipartisan support, there’s research that would be suggestive that it might help and also in some of these extreme cases, in the individual case, it’s hard to argue that the person should have retained their guns,” he said.

After shootings in Dayton and El Paso, Texas, Indiana’s U.S. Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun said they support passing “red flag” gun laws.

Neither responded to requests to answer questions about whether they would push for a vote on legislation that would expand federal background checks for gun purchases that passed in the U.S. House but has yet to get a hearing in the Senate.

“Clearly we have multiple problems in this country – problems of hate, social alienation, and the devaluing of human life – and we’re going to have to work together as a nation to address these challenges,” Young said in a statement. “I think Indiana has done a good job with respect to our red flag law and that’s something that needs to be part of the conversation moving forward across the country.”

“Mass shootings and gun violence across our country is a complex situation; watching Congress do nothing is unacceptable, and I agree with President Trump’s call for bipartisan legislation to address this crisis,” Braun said in a statement.

Braun said any bipartisan legislation needs to include stronger background checks, “red flag” laws and commonsense solutions.

This past legislative session, the Indiana General Assembly passed House Enrolled Act 1651 which expanded the state’s original “red flag” gun law.

HEA 1651, authored by Rep. Donna Schaibley, R-Carmel, says that someone deemed a “dangerous person” cannot apply for or receive a handgun license and that law enforcement can confiscate any firearm owned by a dangerous person.

Any firearm seized by law enforcement will be held by police for 180 days after which the owner can then petition for its return.

The bill also makes it a Class A misdemeanor for a person deemed dangerous to try to obtain a gun and a Level 5 felony for someone to intentionally give a dangerous person a gun.

Rep. Carey Hamilton, D-Indianapolis, who co-authored the bill, said it took some “very small steps” and moved in the right direction.

She said with what’s happening at the national level she’s hoping the General Assembly can start to have reasonable conversations about bills.

“I don’t know that we’ll be able to do that. I’m a little bit optimistic,” she said. “More so than I was at this time last year, even though at that time we’d recently all experienced the shock and horror of what happened in Noblesville.”

In May 2018, a male student injured one teacher and one student in a shooting at Noblesville West Middle School.

Hamilton said she would like to re-introduce two bills that failed to pass during the last session. The first bill would have taken steps to keep guns out of the hands of people convicted of domestic abuse, and the second would have required universal background checks for anyone wishing to purchase or take possession of a firearm.

At the federal level, reports say President Donald Trump is considering a plan to offer federal grants or incentives to encourage states to adopt “red flag” gun laws similar to Indiana’s.

“It’s relatively palatable, in terms of gun laws, and at worse if it doesn’t stop mass homicides, we know it prevents suicides which is still the majority of deaths by gun,” Kivisto said. “That’s not nothing.”

Abrahm Hurt is a reporter for, a news website powered by Franklin College journalists.

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