Speed Reads


What is a 'red flag' law and what does it mean for gun owners?

For the first time in years, there appears to be bipartisan momentum in Congress toward passing significant gun restrictions. The most popular gun legislation, universal background checks, has hit a wall in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), but President Trump and GOP leadership appear open to passing "red flag" laws.

What are "red flag" laws?
Also called "extreme risk protection orders," they authorize law enforcement to temporarily confiscate guns from a person a judge deems an imminent danger to themselves or others. Typically, police or concerned family members or friends request the court order after a gun owner expresses a suicidal or homicidal intention. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have red flag laws on the book.

Are red flag laws effective?
"For 'red flags' to work, someone has to raise them," The Washington Post notes, and an FBI study found that "those most likely to spot dangerous warning signs often feel loyalty to the attacker, refuse to believe they could commit violence, or fear what would happen if they reported the issue." There's little evidence yet that red flag laws are effective at preventing mass shootings, but there's a growing body of data that such laws can reduce suicides, which account for two-thirds of all U.S. gun deaths.

Are gun rights advocates on board?
The National Rifle Association has been fighting red flag laws in states for years, and an NRA spokeswoman said Tuesday that any such laws "at a minimum must include strong due process protections, require treatment, and include penalties against those who make frivolous claims." In most states, gun owners can petition the court to get their guns back.

What "red flags" should people look for?
Along with expressed intent to harm others, people who commit mass shootings tend to have low self-esteem, significant extended trauma, a history of violence — especially domestic violence — substance abuse, multiple DWIs, outbursts of anger, and access to guns NBC News reports, citing multiple studies. Mental illness does not appear to be a significant factor.