Thomas Gallatin / February 19, 2020

Florida’s ‘Red Flag’ Applied Over 3,500 Times in Just Two Years

Inconsistent use of laws and questions regarding due-process protections only add to criticism.

Two years have passed since a mentally unstable young man shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The atrocity sparked a massive campaign by gun-control advocates pressing for more laws limiting Americans’ Second Amendment rights. Within three weeks of the school attack, Florida’s legislature passed several new firearms regulations, including a bipartisan “red flag” bill that was signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican.

Since the law’s implementation, it has been used more than 3,500 times to temporarily confiscate people’s firearms, and, the Associated Press reports, “the pace accelerat[ed] during the last half of 2019.” The question remains: Has the law demonstrably proven to effectively prevent people from harming themselves or others? Predictably, answers vary depending on who is asked.

On the one hand, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri asserts, “We have needed this law for decades.” On the other hand, sheriffs from several other Florida counties — who have never issued red-flag orders — noted that the reason was that they simply hadn’t needed them.

The crux of the problem with red-flag laws is the violation of constitutional protections for due process. For example, with Florida’s law, if a civil court issues a confiscation order, it’s up to the defendant to not only prove his innocence but also to provide for his own counsel. As the AP notes, “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.”

Following the red-flag confiscation of firearms, a hearing is held within two weeks wherein a judges decides if the person’s firearms will be withheld for a year. Once again, no actual law has been broken by the individual; confiscation happens merely based upon the arguments and evidence presented by law enforcement that an individual in question poses a threat. The fact remains that these red-flag laws create a highly problematic and dubious system rife with the potential for rampant corruption and the trampling of people’s constitutional rights. The experience of gun owners in Florida largely proves it.

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