The Stats Behind Crafting a Red Flag Law That Saves Lives

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. His opinions are his own. He can be reached at [email protected] His Twitter account is JohnTures2.

My latest research showed how thousands of lives could be saved if all states had red flag laws, as opposed to a situation where no states had red flag laws.

National legislation was then passed by Congress providing funds to help states create or improve their red flag laws. In this article, I compare the firearm death rates of the 19 states that have such red flag laws to see how to improve these laws.

The police should be part of the process: Highland Park Police and Illinois State Police came under fire following the July 4 parade shooting. But it wasn’t about law enforcement making a bad call. In states like Illinois, the laws themselves are written down, making it harder for police to seize weapons from those who threaten themselves or others.

The ChicagoTribune documented how the police were called twice, but in both cases they were limited by law as to what they could do. “It takes a felony conviction or committal to a mental institution to prohibit someone from having a gun in the state, experts said.”

My research shows that the average firearm death rates of the CDC website for states where only law enforcement or state officials can apply for an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO), depending on the Giffords Center is 12.83 per 100,000 population. When others can ask, the average gun death rate drops to 10.35 per 100,000 people in the state.

Go beyond family: It is sometimes difficult for family members to call a red flag on one of their own. Either the family is unable to believe that one of their members is a threat, or they may feel too intimidated to call an ERPO. Some will buy their child a gun for a birthday, no matter what they did. And red flag laws need to reflect that.

I also compared states that allow people other than family to apply for an ERPO, from employers, co-workers and some school personnel to mental health, Giffords Center. These states have averaged just 7.34 gun deaths per 100,000 population, significantly lower than the 12.66 deaths per 100,000 population that allows only the family to request a red flag.

The standard of proof counts: ERPOs generally fall under civil court. Even then, some red flag states make it difficult to seize firearms, requiring “clear and convincing evidence.” Others have a lower threshold for action, requiring only a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, consistent with many standard civil cases (data is from the Giffords Center as well.

States where the preponderance of evidence standard for an ERPO had only 9.14 firearm deaths per 100,000 population in 2020, lower than the 11.62 firearm deaths per 100,000 population in the states requiring “clear and convincing evidence” to pick up a gun. When you take New Mexico out of the equation (they didn’t pass their law until mid-2020) you see that states requiring a preponderance of evidence have a gun death rate of just 5, 75, less than half of those cases of clear and convincing evidence, a significantly lower rate.

The duration of final orders could play a role: Many people are surprised to learn that ERPOs only last about a year. Some states (Illinois, Vermont, Virginia) have their red flags that only last six months. New Jersey and Connecticut have versions that last longer until the respondent requests a review and can show they are no longer a danger to themselves or others. California can last anywhere from one to five years, depending the Giffords Center. All can renew their red flags, using the same level of proof as during the initial hearing.

Red Flag laws are a good idea; for watered down versions, not so much.

John A. Tures is Professor of Political Science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. His opinions are his own. He can be reached at [email protected]. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.