Over 450 orders to remove firearms from individuals have been carried out under Florida’s new “red flag” law since it was enacted in mid-March, Tampa’s WFTS-TV reported Monday.
The Risk Protection Act was passed in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in February. One of the most controversial provisions in it was that it allowed law enforcement to take firearms away from individuals who had been reported to be a threat to themselves or others with little to no due process.
In just Pinellas County alone, sheriff’s Sgt. Jason Schmittendorf said, authorities have “taken in about 200 firearms and around 30,000 rounds of ammunition.”
“You’ve got an AK-47 style here and an AR-15 style there. We’ve got some rifles and a cache of handguns,” Schmittendorf said as he showed reporters around the room where seized firearms are kept.
“In Pinellas County, a 5-man team is devoted to working only risk protection cases,” WFTS reported.
“So far the team has filed 64 risk protection petitions in court, the second highest number of cases in a Florida county. Broward County has the most, 88 risk protection petitions (as of early-July) since the law took effect in mid-March.”
When asked why he dedicated an entire unit to risk protection petitions, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri was defensive.
“It’s a constitutional right to bear arms and when you are asking the court to deprive somebody of that right, we need to make sure we are making good decisions, right decisions and the circumstances warrant it,” Gualtieri said.
However, attorney Kendra Parris — who feels the new law goes too far — disagrees with the idea that authorities are being careful enough.
“These are individuals who are often exercising their First Amendment rights online, who are protecting constitutionally protected speech online,” Parris said. “Maybe it was odious, maybe people didn’t like it but they were hit with the risk protection order because of it.”
In one case brought by Parris, a University of Central Florida student who praised mass shooters had a risk protection petition filed against him. In another, a minor who merely described a dream regarding a mass shooting was also the subject of a risk protection petition. Neither individual had firearms and both won in court.
“The people whom I’ve represented fought back because they care about their future, not because they cared about owning firearms,” Parris said.
She said that the law should be winnowed down so it only deals with those who have firearms (or have tried to purchase firearms) and represents an imminent threat.
“As it’s written now, the harm can be in six months or maybe in a year this person will go crazy, we don’t know but out of an abundance of caution we need to get this risk protection in place,” Parris said.
“I think we’re doing this because it makes us feel safer,” Parris added. When asked what was wrong with that, she said simply that “it violates the Constitution.”
To this, you can add the fact that something that makes us feel safer doesn’t necessarily make us safer. This was the problem we pointed out when this law was first passed: If authorities are given the ability to take away firearms preemptively, there are going to be plenty of abuses.
We’ve already talked about a case in New Jersey where authorities wanted to take away a veteran’s firearms because his son made a comment about security at his middle school. Now we’re seeing firearms being taken away from people who don’t necessarily have any psychiatric disorder or history of violence but who say things that officials don’t like.
That’s not constitutional. None of this is. Due process is not a hard hurdle to clear. If authorities can’t do it, they shouldn’t be able to abridge your Second Amendment rights. Period.
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