Recent events – one thwarted and one ending in unspeakable tragedy – point to the critical need for effective red flag laws to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not possess them.
The incident last week involved a Buffalo school bus driver accused of threatening a student on his bus.
His chilling rant, “They gonna jump me? I will shoot you. I will shoot them,” was recorded on cellphone video taken by a student and first reported by WGRZ.
The bus driver’s guns were seized and he was fired.
The incident was deemed a “temporary extreme risk order of protection,” also known as a “red flag” from Erie County District Administrative Judge Kevin M. Carter. Following a search of a home on the 100 block of Woodridge Avenue in Cheektowaga, police found three legally owned handguns, which were seized under the red flag order. They also allegedly found one non-SAFE Act compliant Smith & Wesson Model M&P 15 rifle.
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Red flag laws have been under fire by those who think they go too far. But in some cases they have not gone far enough.
Payton Gendron shot and killed 10 and injured three on May 14 last year at a Tops Markets store on Buffalo’s predominately Black East Side.
The red flag laws in place prior to that awful day failed the victims and their families, which is why New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s attempt to strengthen the law should be supported. Not every state has red flag laws.
As reported by the Lee Enterprises Public Service Journalism Team, “New York is one of 19 states with a red flag law, which allows for temporary firearm removal from individuals believed to be at risk of harming themselves or others. But its law has recently encountered trouble in court.”
“Trouble” refers to Second Amendment zealots who believe the government plans to take their guns. It has no such plans.
Hochul signed an executive order expanding the use of the law in the wake of the Buffalo shooting. The executive order requires state police to file an extreme risk order whenever they have probable cause to believe someone is at risk to themselves or others. It also enables health care practitioners to file extreme risk orders.
Courts in New York had issued more than 1,900 extreme risk orders as of Oct. 24, 2022. To the governor’s credit, the usage jumped after her executive order.
However, a New York Supreme Court judge offered opponents of the law a bit of a win by pushing back on its implementation in a ruling in April.
The judge found that “due process rights must be taken into consideration when enforcing so-called ‘red flag’ laws,” according to a statement from National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for gun manufacturers. In its glee, NSSF declared: “The New York judge got it right with this decision. We should be providing all the tools necessary for law enforcement to protect the public against criminals and mentally-deranged individuals that have no respect for life or law. Those protections, though, should never come at the cost to our foundational freedoms – including due process and Second Amendment rights.”
The industry group, along with Rep. Elise Stefanik of the North Country, has it exactly wrong. Red flag laws do not cost law-abiding citizens their “foundational freedoms,” let alone due process and Second Amendment rights. But they do put in place guardrails that might prevent tragedy when a bus driver yells at a student about his guns. Or, worse, as in the case of Gendron who made troubling remarks in June 2021 involving a mention of a murder-suicide at his school, Susquehanna Valley High School in Broome County.
The Broome County District Attorney said the school followed protocol and contacted the New York State Police. But the threat was general with no mention of firearms. The New York State Police arrived at Gendron’s home and took him to a local hospital for evaluation. He was released.
The carnage he created several months later should compel states to implement and strengthen red flag laws. It should also propel Congress to enact a national red flag law to provide potentially life-saving protection against such horror.
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