Earlier this month, two mass shootings took place within 14 hours and left 29 people dead.
The incidents happened in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, and immediately sparked a conversation about red flag gun laws across the nation.
Currently, 17 states and Washington, D.C., have red flag laws, including Florida, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana and California — only five states had red flag laws before the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
A red flag gun law is a state law that authorizes courts to issue a special type of protection order, which allows police to temporarily take away firearms from people who are deemed to be a danger to themselves or to others.
The request to take away a person’s firearms can come from relatives or friends concerned about a loved one who owns one or more guns and has expressed suicidal thoughts or talked about shooting someone. Authorities can also make the request. How long the guns are taken away usually depends on the circumstances and can be extended only after another court hearing. The orders also bar the person they cover from buying firearms.
According to data from the GunViolenceArchive.org, there has been 271 mass shootings across the U.S. in 2019, as of Tuesday. The organization defines a mass shooting as any incident in which at least four people were shot, excluding the shooter. Six of the recorded shootings happened in Alabama — seven victims were killed.
A red flag law was brought up in the Alabama Legislature in April. Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, sponsored the Gun Violence Protective Order Act, but it was never voted on. The bill was said to be similar to others passed across the country.
The legislation has received bipartisan support in other states. While he isn’t opposed to the red flag law, Rep. Kerry Rich, R–Albertville, said he would need to know more about the law before he could ever support it.
“A lot of people say we need another law,” Rich said. “But we’ve got a bunch of laws already … the law is broad enough.
“I would need to know how it worked in reality,” he added. “I wouldn’t say I would or wouldn’t support a red flag law, but I’m inclined not to at this point.”
Rather than focusing on passing another gun law, Rich said efforts should be placed at where he believes the root of the problem is — mental health and better background checks.
“The real problem, when you get right down to it, is mental health,” Rich said. “In Marshall County, over 50% of our inmates are there for some mental health issue. There are only 10 beds in the Marshall County Jail designated for inmates with severe mental health issues, and there’s a long list of inmates that really need to be in those beds but can’t … And it’s a nationwide thing — not providing facilities and allowing those people to run free with mental health issues. And those people with mental health problems should not be allowed to have guns. Crime is reciprocated by mental health issues.
“By law, they are supposed to run proper, serious background checks,” he continued. “Most try, but my view is we need more serious background checks. You could say we need to pass laws from here till the end of time, but all it’s going to end up doing is taking guns away from law abiding citizens.”