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After weekend shootings, Democratic lawmakers renew push to expand Florida’s ‘red flag’ law

“This is a bipartisan bill that will greatly help reduce preventable gun violence.”

Sen. Lori Berman and Rep. Richard Stark are again backing legislation that would allow family members of potentially dangerous individuals to petition a court to restrict that person’s access to weapons.

The two backed similar legislation during the 2019 Session. But that bill died before advancing out of committee.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act (SB 7026), passed into law in 2018, allowed for guns to be restricted from individuals showing “red flags,” or warning signs, of potential violence.

That law does not allow family members to petition a court directly. Instead, the Act limited that ability to others, such as law enforcement officers or an individual who adjudicated someone as mentally defective.

That means family members would have to first report potential warning signs to one of those individuals, who would then be able to petition the court.

But following a pair of mass shootings over the weekend, Berman refiled the bill (SB 114) in the Senate for the 2020 Legislative Session.

“These senseless massacres could have an added piece of potential prevention if we simply allow those closest to those with mental illness an opportunity to come forward,” Berman said.

“We are taught, if we see something, say something, yet that very principle is meaningless if the information shared lacks the ability to be enforced.”

In addition to those two deadly shootings in Texas and Ohio, another pair of potential attacks were stopped after authorities were alerted of disturbing behavior.

After a Pennsylvania man made threatening remarks while trying to purchase weapons at a Walmart, employees contacted law enforcement, and they arrested the man.

And in Texas, a 19-year-old was arrested after his grandma told police he planned to shoot up a hotel.

Both the El Paso and Dayton shooters also expressed violent intent before committing their attacks.

“Reducing gun violence requires a multi-prong approach,” Stark said.

“One area most legislators agree on is preventing people with mental health issues from carrying out the harming of themselves or others. Family members are best at recognizing warning signs and too often need to work directly with the courts. This is a bipartisan bill that will greatly help reduce preventable gun violence.”

Under Florida’s “red flag” law, if a court agrees to issue a Risk Protection Order (RPO) against an individual, that person would have their guns taken for one year before a judge decides on whether to keep the restriction in effect.

Critics have argued that the one-year restriction infringes on individuals’ Second Amendment rights.

Given that these petitions are not full legal cases, individuals facing seizure of their weapons aren’t guaranteed an attorney. That means those individuals must argue their own case to push back against a declaration that they are a danger.

“It’s just a fear that since a lot of these cases target people with mental illness, you’re essentially asking someone with a mentally ill person to make their own case to the judge,” said Tom Hudson in an interview with NPR on the effect of “red flag” laws.

Berman challenged Republicans, who have historically been reticent to expand regulatory authority regarding guns, to consider the bill during the upcoming Session.

“As I enter my 10th year of legislative service, I have proposed bills in all but one of those years to address some aspect of meaningful, responsible and sensible gun control,” Berman said.

“Unfortunately, until the Republicans summon the courage to overthrow the hold of the National Rifle Association, and embrace some of these measures, the growing threat of gun violence will continue to be an all-too-familiar part of Floridians’ daily lives.”

Written By

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to ryan.t.nicol@gmail.com.

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