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What are red flag laws? Looking into the gun control proposal gaining bipartisan support in the wake of two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio

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By Roey Hadar

Production Associate

A pair of mass shootings in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and in a popular nightlife district in Dayton, Ohio, on Saturday that led to over 30 deaths have ignited a debate over gun control measures, immigration, political rhetoric and domestic terrorism.

For the past two decades, mass shootings have become an increasingly frequent occurrence in America. All five of the deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history—at a music festival in Las Vegas, a nightclub in Orlando, Virginia Tech’s college campus, Sandy Hook Elementary School and a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas—have occurred in the last 12 years.

In response to the attacks, President Donald Trump addressed the nation and proposed a series of remedies to America’s gun violence problem.

Among his proposals was a call to expand the use of Extreme Risk Protection Orders, commonly known as “red flag laws.” These laws allow a family member or law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily block someone deemed a risk of harming themselves or others from owning a gun. The measures are meant to allow for early intervention to stop someone who could be a suicide risk or a potential mass shooter.

Democrats and gun-control advocates have pushed the measures, which have also gained support from Republicans including Ohio Governor John Kasich, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and President Trump. The National Rifle Association (NRA), the nation’s largest gun-rights organization, has also expressed a degree of support for red flag laws.

Seventeen states, plus the District of Columbia, have red flag laws on the books. It’s unclear yet just how effective these laws are but AP reporting indicated that states issued at least 1,700 orders allowing guns to be seized under the laws.

In Maryland, courts received 302 requests for orders in the first three months after the law was enacted in October 2018. The courts seized guns from roughly half of those individuals, including four gun owners who were deemed “significant risks” to schools.

Critics argue the law unconstitutionally infringes on people’s constitutional right to a gun, citing concerns that the law could be abused to target people who are not actually threats and arguing that people should not be punished before they have actually committed a crime.

In the Senate, a bipartisan red flag law proposal is in the works. Graham and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are working on a bill that would create a federal grant program to help states adopt and enforce their own versions of the laws. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has asked for an emergency Senate session to debate and vote on gun control legislation the House passed in February, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has not yet responded to the request.