As the capital region starts reopening, we hear from the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Jeff McKay, and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. Plus, DCist senior editor Rachel Kurzius gives a preview of D.C.'s June 2 primary.
Despite the political standstill on federal and state gun policy, there’s one proposal supported by both gun control and gun rights advocates: Red flag laws.
Red flag laws allow police to temporarily seize a citizen’s firearms if a judge determines that they present a danger to themselves or others. These laws are currently on the books in 11 different states, including most recently, Maryland.
But just because these laws have received bipartisan support does not mean they are without controversy. In November, Anne Arundel County police officers fatally shot a man named Gary Willis while serving an order to seize his guns. The department is currently investigating the shooting.
What makes Maryland’s law unique? And, what do studies tell us about the effectiveness of this policy? Kojo examines Maryland’s red flag law with a panel of experts.
Produced by Ruth Tam
- Alana Wise Reporting Fellow, Guns & America; @alanawise_
- Dorothy Paugh Gun control advocate
- Mark Pennak President, Maryland Shall Issue
- Shannon Frattaroli Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
- Darren Popkin Sheriff, Montgomery County, Md.
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. In order to separate at risk gun owners from their firearms, Maryland passed a Red Flag Law, which went into effect last October. Here's how it works. If a gun owner presents an immediate danger to themselves or to others, family members, law enforcement, or healthcare professionals can apply for what's known an extreme risk protective order. This petition goes through a court hearing process where a judge decides whether the gun owner must surrender her or his firearms. It has support from people on both of the aisle, but is it actually effective in diminishing gun violence.
KOJO NNAMDIAs with all things gun policy, it's controversial, complicated, and it raises a lot of questions over what we as a society value. We're devoting this entire hour to understanding what these Red flag laws look like locally and nationally. Joining us now to explain is Alana Wise. She is a reporting fellow at Guns & America, which is public radio collaborative based here at WAMU. Alana, thank you so much for joining us.
ALANA WISEThanks for having me.
NNAMDIThere are a lot of different proposals for gun control and very few of them pass. What is it about red flag laws that have appealed to both gun control and gun rights advocates?
WISEWell, the thing about red flag laws is that it has support as you mentioned from both sides of the aisle. The Trump administration has supported some iteration of a red flag law. And what it gets to the root of is addressing what many people see as a gap between the mental health aspect in what leads to violence. And so when you see support on both sides even though these laws have not necessarily passed in places where one might guess they might, the fact of them seeking to address in mental health treatment and seeking to remove guns in instances where there might be some sort of immediate threat not only to the person who is the gun owner or the person is in the home with the guns, but also to the public at large, which is the major thing.
NNAMDIWhat was the impetus for this law in Maryland specifically?
WISESo prior to the Parkland shooting in 2018, which was the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida about eight states had some version of a red flag law. After the shooting in Parkland that number more than doubled to about 13 states and the District of Columbia, Maryland being one of them. What we saw happening was that in Maryland -- Maryland suffered last year two mass shootings including the shooting at the Capital Gazette Newspaper and a shooting at a Rite Aid distribution center in Aberdeen.
WISESo the governor of the state of Maryland, Larry Hogan, who is a republican, I'd like to add really had a big push both from the local level and taking into account what we had seen nationally the shooting at Parkland as well as the other shootings we had seen where a big conversation was being had about whether or not these people, who had carried out these shootings had presented any sort of quote on quote red flags that may have flagged them to officers or law enforcement or family members who could have gotten involved.
NNAMDISo who exactly can petition to have someone's firearm taken away?
WISESo that actually varies state by state depending on the way the law is written. But here in Maryland that law applies to law enforcement officers can seek a petition, family members, medical professionals. And what they do is if a person seems to be presenting a danger, they file for this petition that goes to a judge. And if the judge agrees then the officer are dispatched to temporarily remove the guns before a fuller hearing on the temporary removal is secured.
NNAMDIThese extreme risk protective orders -- when they take away a gun, it's temporary, correct?
WISEIt's temporary, yes. So the law seeks to remove guns at the time when a person is thought to be most at risk to themselves, so in the state of Maryland that can happen on a 24 hour basis. If someone is thought to be in crisis at four a.m., at two a.m., in the middle of the day, there is a mechanism wherein they can seek to have one of these protection orders implemented. And then the gun is removed in the effort of removing that immediate threat to both themselves and to the public. These gun removals can -- as I mentioned, they are removed immediately for a temporary period. And then a hearing is set to determine whether or not they should be kept for a longer period of time up to about a year.
NNAMDISince this law went into effect in Maryland four months ago, how many people have filed petitions for protective orders?
WISESo Maryland law enforcement has seen hundreds of petitions, about 360 as of the end of January. But only about a little less than half, 173, as of the last count were actually granted.
NNAMDIWhat if anything do those numbers tell us?
WISEWell, I think they tell us a few things. When looking at Maryland, as I mentioned, the law went into effect on October 1st and since then they've flagged -- fielded something like three requests every day for these orders. And it shows that there was a fair amount of public information and public literacy surrounding the bill. It also, I think, shows that people had been seeking some sort of mechanism for this, and when this law went into effect they then had the means to seek this order. But I also think that given how relatively few of them have been granted kind of shows the push pull between law enforcement and the public. In many instances, the cases are dismissed if the petitioner doesn't show up to court or a judge might find that there is no actual threat and so the case is dismissed.
NNAMDINow let us meet the individual Marylander, who helped get red flag laws on the books. Dorothy Paugh is a gun control advocate. She joins us in studio. Dorothy, thank you for joining us.
DOROTHY PAUGHYou're welcome.
NNAMDIYou've been impacted by gun violence in more ways than one. Can you explain the circumstances in which you lost your father and your son?
PAUGHYes. In 1965, I was nine years old and my father asked my mother to take the five kids between the ages 5 and 15 to the community swimming pool. And it was a hot August day and we were thrilled having a great time playing Marco Polo. And over the loud speaker my mother's name was announced and the police came and drove us in our station wagon to the hospital where we learned that my father had died.
PAUGHAnd he had lost his job. He was 51 years old and he communicated to my mother that he intended to take his life. He had a will and a insurance policy that he laid out and said, you'll need these papers. And he bought a handgun for just one use. And while we were gone, he went into our basement. First he called the police so that we wouldn't walk in to find his body. And that was my introduction to gun violence.
NNAMDIWhen he indicated to your mother that he intended to kill himself, what did she do? Did she try to talk him out of it?
PAUGHShe was beside herself. Of course she did. And she also called our parish priest, who came over and also his best friend. And they came. And neither one of them asked to take that gun. And I wish they had.
NNAMDIWhat happened in the case of your son?
PAUGHMy son in April of 2012, 25 years old, a graduate of University of Maryland Baltimore County without any signs that we picked up on, one day called in sick to work. Left a note basically asking me to take care of his beloved girlfriend and he walked to the woods with a handgun. He had bought that the year before ostensibly for protection.
PAUGHBut ironically I had talked to him, because of the experience with my father to say that it made me nervous. That it scared me, because I knew that a gun in a home was more likely to harm or injure someone who lived in that home than anyone else. And, of course, he was an adult. His older brother to this day has a gun. My husband is a hunter not that he always hits anything, but don't tell him I said that.
NNAMDIBut how did your son's death turn you into an advocate for red flag laws specifically?
PAUGHWell, I actually came to this issue researching what worked to prevent suicide. I had no preconceptions and nothing against guns. Actually in the military, I'm qualified as a marksmen with an M16. So I'm not unfamiliar with guns and I'm not afraid of guns and they have their place and their use.
NNAMDIYou became an advocate for red flag laws.
PAUGHSo when I did the research, it just became clear to me. There are two proven methods to prevent suicide that have scientific basis. And one is mental health counseling and almost equally effective is reducing access to the most lethal common methods, because if you can get the person passed their worst moment, they will not go on to kill themselves. They won't just find another way.
NNAMDIIn other words you feel if extreme protection orders were an option at the time do you think they would have made a difference in the life of your father and your son?
PAUGHI can't say for sure in either case, but it certainly, my mother had plenty of warning. And there are many suicidal people who do telegraph their intent. And the people around them are close to them and they know that and they just don't know what to do. And the one thing you don't want to happen, because every minute since my son died I anguish over what I could have done. What might I have done differently? And just having that tool is powerful.
NNAMDIWell, you went out and did something, but when you first asked your Maryland delegate, Geraldine Valentino-Smith, to take on this issue, you were told it was not the best time for legislators to take on gun control. What issues with timing and politics did you face?
PAUGHWell, I had approached her in late fall of actually 2016. And, of course, it takes time to draft a bill and to build a coalition of supporters. And so she discussed it with people that she knew in the mental health field and said, you know, let's do this next year. And so I said, Okay. And a year goes by and it's fall again and a lot of the groups that we were hoping we'd find support felt that because it was an election year, the timing may not be good. They had some other high priority laws that they wanted to focus on. So they didn't spread their force. So when we basically had no organizational support and I looked at Delegate Valentino-Smith and she looked at me and she had made me a promise and she said, I'm filing this bill.
NNAMDIWell, you'd be interested to know that Delegate Geraldine Valentino-Smith is on the phone right now. So let's go to her. Delegate Valentino-Smith, thank you for joining us.
GERALDINE VALENTINO-SMITHThank you. You know, it's always good to have this very important conversation and I think that Dorothy is, you know, an advocate that accomplished something along with many others, but it always takes somebody to start the effort and she certainly did.
NNAMDIWhy was last year a politically opportune moment to introduce the red flag law? Did you have any unlikely allies?
VALENTINO-SMITHWell, I will tell you for Maryland we're very proud that -- with Dorothy we were discussing this, you know, late summer fall. Parkland had not happened yet. So, we were very much ahead of the curve in terms of discussing it. And we were able then to have very early discussions with the mental health community. And to avoid the concerns that they've had when other states try and link this effort only to those that have a mental health illness.
VALENTINO-SMITHSo we were able to work with the mental health industry and steer away from what their concerns and objections were. We have an incredible law enforcement contingency here in Maryland that at any point in time could have hesitated and said, This is complicated and came, you know, to the mat. Sheriff Popkin, one of them, to make sure that law enforcement was working hand in hand.
VALENTINO-SMITHAnd then we had what we do hope, the best form of government should always have. We had leadership in the House to the Speaker and the House Judiciary Committee. We had leadership in the Senate through Senator Zirkin and the controlling committee in the Senate and the president of the Senate. And we had the governor saying, This is important and this should move forward. And I will support it.
NNAMDIAs a result, you were able to put it off. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation about red flag laws. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about red flag laws, in general, and in Maryland, in particular. Just because red flag laws have been backed by both republicans and democrats and gun owners and gun control advocates alike does not make them uncontroversial. In November, a month into the red flag program, an Anne Arundel man was shot by police when they arrived at his to serve one of those orders. Alana Wise, tell us what happened.
WISESo, the case of Gary Willis is this. What has been reported is that there was some sort of disagreement with the family member and someone in the family called and requested one of these red flag gun removals from his home. Police arrived. And Gary Willis apparently opens the door holding his gun. At one point he does put the gun down according to police. But he -- to quote the police report from the time, becomes irate and later picks the gun up. And during the scuffle that ensued the gun fired.
WISEThat gunshot did not hit anybody. But one of the two officers who was there to serve the order fired back and shot and ultimately killed Gary Willis. So that just represents kind of the worst case scenario of what could happen under one of these laws, but I would like to point out that Anne Arundel County police did in the press conference following the incident say that they felt that they were justified in going to remove that order. And that a family member had called because he had been behaving in a way that made this particular family member feel threatened and feel the need to seek out this order.
NNAMDIAlso joining us in studio is Mark Pennak. He is president of the group Maryland Shell Issue, a gun owner's advocacy group. Mark Pennak, thank you very much for joining us.
MARK PENNAKIt's a pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIAs Alana said what happened with Gary Willis is the worst case scenario for many gun owners who fear that they can have their firearms taken away without ever committing a crime and possibly lose their lives in the process. What are you hearing from gun owners about this law?
PENNAKGun owners are terrified about this law, because it creates a new legal classification that only gun owners have. The red flag law applies only if you are posing a risk to yourself or others by virtue of possessing a gun. You could pose a risk to someone else or yourself and not possess a gun and this law doesn't apply to you at all. You already have in Maryland under Title 10 of the general health -- and forgive me if I talk like a lawyer. I can't help it.
NNAMDIBecause you are.
PENNAKI have been one for a long time. So it's in my DNA by now. So we already have an existing mental health professional system in place to address this sort of situation where someone possess a suicide risk to themselves. Where any interested person very broad, virtually the entire population, can petition to have someone actually taken in for a mental health evaluation. A mental health professional, family member, a law enforcement officer, but any other interested person can do that.
PENNAKWhat's peculiar about this law is that under the red flag law this person who supposedly is dangerous to himself or others, the police come. They seize his property under an ex parte order. The first he hears about it. In the Anne Arundel County situation, the police showed up at 5:17 in the morning, raps on his doors. And he made the mistake of coming the door armed at 5:17 in the morning. And that was -- he made a huge error of judgement there.
PENNAKBut that -- I predicted this sort of tragedy, when I asked the governor to veto this. I said, this is just rife with risk. But then they take his gun. So let's assume he cooperates. And they leave. And they leave him there on the door step. And if he wasn't mad before, he's furious now. And this is a person, who has supposedly creates a risk to himself or others. And they leave him. We argued during this --
NNAMDIYou seem to be suggesting that they should not leave him, but that they should put him into some kind of professional mental healthcare.
PENNAKThat is exactly the procedure already established under existing law that predates this red flag law.
NNAMDIBut you also think the law makes it too easy for someone to file a petition to take away someone's firearms.
PENNAKWell, it does because all an individual has to do is call the police and for whatever reason, say they feel at risk or they think this person is a suicide risk. Then the police make an independent assessment of that. Procure one of these laws ex parte again, without ever asking for the participation of an individual and they go cease his weapons.
NNAMDIWell, doesn't the individual have the opportunity to appear in the judicial process that takes care -- that addresses this and make his or her own argument?
PENNAKWell, he then has an opportunity. Let's say this happens on a weekend, which is what happened in Anne Arundel County. A district court commissioner makes that initial determination. Then under the law within two days there is a temporary hearing, which a judge supposedly makes this determination. But the only evidence considered by the judge in that hearing is the evidence submitted by the petitioner. The individual involved has no opportunity to submit evidence at that hearing. The only evidence the judge is obligated to consider is the petitioner's evidence. The respondent's evidence is not considered.
NNAMDISo you seem to be suggesting that the judge has no obligation to listen to what the respondent has to say?
PENNAKThe judge is only obligated under this statute to listen to the petitioner's evidence. Only until the final order does the petitioner have a chance to actually present evidence. And remember, this is a civil proceeding. So he has much truncated due process rights to subpoena evidence to get what's called a Brady order or a disclosure or a Giglio order of disclosure. So that he actually has an opportunity to view the evidence that's been presented against him.
PENNAKIn the criminal context, prosecutors do that as a matter of -- a Brady evidence is exculpatory evidence that might show that the individual actually was not guilty of anything that the petitioner says he is. Giglio evidence is evidence that would be used for impeachment that shows that the petitioner was actually wrong or is misguided or otherwise. None of that's provided to the respondent.
NNAMDIWe invited Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare to comment on the shooting of Gary Willis. But his office declined our invitation. Here instead to talk about red flag laws from the law enforcement perspective, you heard Delegate Valentino-Smith mention him earlier, Darren Popkin is the Sheriff of Montgomery County, Maryland, who advised the legislators on the red flag bill before it was approved. Sheriff Popkin, thank you for joining us.
DARREN POPKINI'm thrilled to be here. Thank you.
NNAMDIWhen this bill was submitted to the Maryland legislature you were asked to share your experience. What should listeners understand about law enforcement's role in carrying out red flag orders?
POPKINSo law enforcement has always -- and this is not just in Maryland. This is nationwide. There's not a day that goes by that law enforcement doesn't respond to people in crisis situations. But in Maryland there was never any statutory authority if someone was having a significant crisis and they were an immediate threat to themselves or others. There was no statutory authority to actually remove the firearms at the time of the service of the order.
POPKINNow the red flag, the extreme risk protective order in Maryland, the legislators in Maryland had really some great forethought to understand that you had to couple these with the emergency evaluation petitions. So in almost about 40 percent of the cases here in Maryland you heard a few minutes ago that law enforcement is just leaving them there. The reality is on almost 40 percent of the cases law enforcement is taking someone to the hospital. Not only taking -- seizing the firearms because of the immediate threat to themselves or others. But they're actually taking somebody for emergency medical attention to deal with somebody's mental health considerations.
NNAMDIYou coordinated regional trainings for officers carrying out these orders. What did these trainings entail?
POPKINSo, when the law passed in Maryland, there was a short period of time to make sure that all of Maryland's law enforcement understood what this law was about. This was a large process change in Maryland, and one that the law itself -- it is inherently dangerous when you have somebody who is potentially in crisis, has access to firearms. You're going there to serve an order and to actually seize the firearms. And if somebody does not turn the firearms over, they are subject to arrest.
POPKINSo, it was very important, because this was new in Maryland, that across the state, we conducted regional trainings for law enforcement executives from almost every law enforcement agency in the state of Maryland to have them understand that on October 1st, this was going to occur. And, in fact, on October 1st of 2018, several were issued that day, and law enforcement was prepared and ready to serve these orders and take the appropriate action.
NNAMDIMike Pennak has concerns about this law being so broad, it could be abused. He's concerned specifically about people calling up the police and claiming to be threatened, and having the police petitioned on their behalf to take away a gun owner's guns. Allow me to go to the phones, because there's an individual who apparently feels this way. Iman in Chantilly, Virginia. Iman, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
IMANGood afternoon, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. As far as I'm concerned, this law is a stupid law, because people abuse the system. What they do is people can go to court and file a restraining order against you. And by the time the police come over and brought the restraining order delivered to home, you have to go back and you have to defend yourself. And you don't even know what -- police doesn't know anything abo this. If they want to check someone, why they don't check the person's background before he buys a gun and see if this person mentally is sick and he's not qualified to own a gun. Because a lot of times...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, a lot of times, Iman, we're talking about people whose disposition, if you will, whose mental disposition seems to be changing. And that's why they are determined to be at risk. At the point at which that individual bought the gun, there may have been nothing going on wrong in that individual's life or in that individual's mental health. But I want to get in James in Gaithersburg, Maryland, who has a similar concern to Iman. James, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAMESHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. My question is -- well, I am a gun owner. I do support the Second Amendment, and I'm not inherently against these kind of laws. My question, though, is, is it possible for these laws to be abused, and what safeguards, if any, are to stop maybe, you know, a neighbor they are having a dispute with or an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend who is just looking to really get back at you?
NNAMDI(overlapping) Good question. I'm glad you raised it. Sheriff Popkin, how does this law, the way it's written, protect against that kind of abuse?
POPKINSo, law enforcement is certainly concerned about abuse of any sort of court order or any sort of problem within the judicial system. However, the law was built in that someone who gets one of these orders has to do it under the penalty of perjury. Law enforcement does not issue these. Law enforcement serves them. Law enforcement can be the petitioner of it, but it has judicial review, whether at the commissioner or by the judge. So, law enforcement will serve them, but it's at the direction of the judiciary.
POPKINAnd there are certain standards, and it is a high standard for someone to have to actually meet the standard for one of these orders to be issued here in Maryland. I will say that, from my experience, what I've seen so far in the first four months of the 370 orders that have been issued, I have not seen abuse. As a matter of fact, I do believe they are saving lives. I have gotten personal feedback from a number of people that we have served these orders to. I can't talk about specific cases because of the specific confidentiality in the law, so I can't talk specifics. But I will tell you, I've received personal feedback that if it was not for these orders, they believe their loved ones may not have survived.
POPKINSo, as the caller mentioned, we are very concerned of any abuse potential, but as of this point, I believe the judiciary's doing an exceptional job of issuing this, and it's based on facts and circumstances. And I'm not seeing the abuse, at this point.
PAUGHI just want to mention that, in Maryland, there are 250 firearm suicides every year. And so those tragedies need to be counted, as well as the Anne Arundel County incident. And there is research. Duke University, Jeffery Swanson and team, that Connecticut has had a red flag law for almost 20 years. And they, in their research, calculated that for every ten to 20 petitions issued, a life is saved. And when you're talking in order of 370, ten to 15 Marylanders may have already been saved. And suicide does not just take the life of that one individual. It damages the lives of everyone around them. The community suffers and...
NNAMDI(overlapping) As a result, Mark Pennak, a lot of people will say it's better to be safe than sorry. Why does that justification not cut it for you?
PENNAKWell, it's interesting you should say that, because a commissioner, district court commissioner called me after this law became effective, and he said exactly that. When I'm faced with one of these and I hear only from a petitioner, and they make a facially plausible case that this -- I'm going to issue these, because I'd rather be safe than sorry. But the trouble with that is that these petitioners can be abused, and because the petitioner, the person who actually makes the complaint or actually files the petition, has complete immunity. There need not even be a reasonable ground, because the law provides that person complete immunity under civil and criminal liability for filing a false report, which is contrary to Maryland law and all other circumstances, as long as they did so in good faith, which is subjective good faith.
PENNAKAnd even other portions of immunity law, for example, under the mental health evaluation process, there has to be reasonable grounds, good faith and reasonable grounds. But the legislators actually...
NNAMDI(overlapping) But you seem to be suggesting that if good faith is not proven, then the alternative, malice of forethought, is the situation.
PENNAKNo. A person can have subjectively...
NNAMDI(overlapping) As you say, well-intentioned.
PENNAKWell, yes, and vastly wrong. So, the person can perceive things in ways that no one else sees and still have good faith. It need not be objectively reasonable, and need not even be independently evaluated.
NNAMDIWell, Alana, if someone is served the red flag order and wants to fight it, how does that person appeal the judge's decision?
WISESo, as I mentioned earlier, what happens is that at the time that the call is put in, a judge makes a determination whether or not officers should be dispatched to temporarily remove the firearms. Now, within several days, then an actual hearing is set. And so that person is then brought in to determine whether or not this temporary seizure of their guns should be extended for a longer period of time. So, they do, at that point, have the opportunity to go and make their cases heard at the court as to whether or not they do present some sort of threat to either themselves or others, as has been asserted by the petitioner.
NNAMDIGot to go to break soon, but I wanted to deal with this specific incident first. We got a Facebook comment from Bill in Maryland: red flag law would not have stopped the killer of the five innocents at the Capital Gazette. This law might be strengthened -- or this law must be strengthened. However, here's what Kathleen in Annapolis, Maryland has to say. Kathleen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATHLEENHi, thank you very much for taking my call, Kojo. Just by quick way of background, my brother was the attorney that represented the victims of Jerrod Ramos, who was the Capital shooter. And because he represented his victims, my brother and myself, we, as attorneys that practice together, were stalked by Jerrod Ramos for years. My brother, Brannon McCarthy, went to court on numerous occasions, begging the court for a mental health evaluation for the Capital shooter. Those requests were denied.
KATHLEENThen Mr. Ramos went quiet. He obtained a weapon. And had anyone had any idea that he had obtained a weapon, I have no doubt that the red flag law would've been successful in removing that weapon from him. The moment that that shooting became on air, I called my brother. And my brother said to me, it's him. It's Ramos. And we immediately contacted the authorities. We had no doubt. Our office was located two miles from...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Like I said, we have to go to break very shortly, so I'm sorry to interrupt, but very quickly, Mark Pennak, what would you say in response to Kathleen, that the red flag law would have prevented this?
PENNAKThere's no way of knowing whether it would've prevented it, but I can say that the Sheriff's suggestion that a quarter or 40 percent of these result in mental evaluations. Well, in October, there were 114 case filings under this statute. The final mental health evaluations were zero.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about red flag laws, one of which went into effect in Maryland in October of last year. Alana Wise, we've been talking about Maryland's law, but what about DC and Virginia? Where do they stand on this issue?
WISESo, Maryland joined about 13 other states who have one of these laws on the book. What stands now in the District of Columbia here in Washington is Mayor Muriel Bowser last week signed a gun reform package that includes DC's own version of a red flag law, which will now go to Congress. A similar law in Virginia was shot down during this year's general assembly. The mayor -- the governor, Governor Northam in Virginia had pushed pretty hard to get this law passed. This was the second time he'd made such an effort, but it was again unsuccessful. Virginia Republicans were not fans of this law, and they made pretty strong efforts to vote it down.
NNAMDIJoining us now by phone is Shannon Frattarolli, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Shannon Frattarolli, thank you for joining us.
SHANNON FRATTAROLIThank you very much for having me, Kojo, and for paying attention to this very important issue.
NNAMDIShannon, where else in the country have laws like this been passed, and in what ways do they differ from Maryland's law?
FRATTAROLISo, we've seen laws like this pass on the West Coast, so California, Oregon and Washington. We've seen laws like this in place in Illinois. And we've seen a number of states on the East Coast, up and down the coast from Florida to Vermont, pass laws such as what we have here in Maryland. I would say the primary difference between what we see among those states is two things. One is that Connecticut and Indiana -- which Connecticut was mentioned before -- were early adopters of this concept. And in Connecticut and Indiana, the only people who can petition are law enforcement.
FRATTAROLICalifornia and the ten states that followed California all include -- in addition to law enforcement as petitioners -- family members. So, that's one important distinction. In Maryland, we have a unique provision in which, in addition to law enforcement and family members, clinicians may also petition under Maryland's extreme risk protection order law.
NNAMDIBut, Mark Pennak, what leads you to believe, given the restrictions that she just indicated in Maryland law, that just anybody could call up and have their neighbor?
PENNAKWell, the restriction's illusory, because anyone can make a complaint to the police and ask the police to file such a petition. And...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Is that correct, Darren Popkin? Can I simply say, hey, I'm his brother?
POPKINYou know, as I said earlier, you know, the abuses could occur at any stage. We're not seeing it. It's under the penalty of perjury, and someone has to go in front of a judge, and they have to meet a legal standard. So, it's not as if what he's referring to is anybody can just say anything at any time. It's just not the experiences, what Maryland is seeing.
NNAMDIShannon, these laws have been on the books in, like, Connecticut for some 20 years. What data do we have on their effectiveness?
FRATTAROLIWell, we don't have enough evaluations done on these. Dorothy Paugh mentioned that Jeff Swenson and colleagues have done some work on Connecticut's law. To suggest that for suicide, in particular, these laws are quite promising. Other than that, we don't have enough information on the effectiveness. We have a lot of anecdotes, as Sheriff Popkin has shared with us. I've heard anecdotes similar to his stories all across the country. And we have evidence from a similar type of law, which is the domestic violence restraining order, which also allows for the removal of guns -- temporary removal of guns when someone is behaving dangerously.
FRATTAROLIAnd those domestic violence restraining orders, again, those are civil processes, so I think there's a strong parallel. We do have some good information to show that there are strong associations between domestic violence restraining orders and significant reductions in intimate partner homicides, generally, and intimate partner gun homicides, in particular. So, that's a good piece of evidence to suggest that we should be optimistic, cautiously optimistic about good effects coming from the extreme risk protective order laws like we have in Maryland, as well. But we need to do the evaluations and assess what the ultimate effect on the outcomes we want to see are in Maryland.
NNAMDIDarren Popkin, one thing that makes Maryland's law unique is that it allows medical professionals to petition for a protective order. Out of the 175 petitions that were granted, do you know how many of them originated from a medical professional?
POPKINIt's my understanding there has only been two orders in Maryland that have actually been from a health practitioner.
NNAMDIThe way the law is written now, Shannon, does it make sense to include medical professionals?
FRATTAROLIWell, as evidenced by the numbers that Sheriff Popkin just shared, we need to understand how to adjust this tool so that it is a viable tool for clinicians. I've talked to a number of clinicians around Maryland, as well as other states, and many are very interested in this idea. Emergency room physicians, for instance, have many experiences where they're treating people who are angry, who are behaving dangerously and who will reveal that they have a gun in their car or, you know, that they have a gun in their home and are contemplating suicide. But it's not sort of to the level of risk that would allow them to issue an emergency.
NNAMDIBill in Annapolis, Maryland says he has a personal experience with this. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BILLThank you. I actually had, right after this law was passed, I think shortly afterwards, I had an ex-wife who was trying to gain custody of my son, maliciously filed one of these red flag laws. She'd done it previously on ex parte, but this one took a whole lot less effort on her part. And they removed my firearms, went to court a week later and found in my favor there was no reason for them to have done that. It took me three months to get them back. I had to actually prove that they belonged to me, even though all but one or two antique firearms that were family hand-me-downs were all registered to the state. The state of Maryland already had those registered, but I still had to prove that each one of those that was in my possession were legally mine.
NNAMDIAnd we got an email from Timothy, who said: when I was getting a divorce ten years ago, out of pure vindictiveness, my soon-to-be-ex-wife got the police to seize my duck hunting shotgun. I, of course, gave it up, and six months later, got it back. The potential to use these laws for simple humiliation is huge, and if this law passes, I expect virtually every gun owner getting a divorce will always have it seized. Are we willing to accept that? Of course, we have heard from neither of the ex-wives of Bill or Timothy in this situation, but this is the kind of situation, Sheriff Popkin, that domestic disputes cause to come about, or can cause to come about.
POPKINSo, in Montgomery County, my office runs the Family Justice Center, which is Montgomery County's domestic violence center. And at any given time, I probably have approximately 200 firearms that have been seized in domestic-related cases. And as Shannon said a few minutes ago, we know that during the period of time of the protective order being issued in a domestic violence case, the removal of the firearms saves lives.
POPKINAnd it's very similar in this red flag bill, that it's not only people who are in crisis, a mental health-type of crisis, because you don't have to be diagnosed with a mental illness in this law. You just have to have some sort of association, be in crisis, maybe that you need some mental health. But it also applies to domestic violence, and some other factors, as well. So, this is just another step and of not necessarily you refer to as gun control, but certainly as a gun safety piece of legislation.
NNAMDIMark Pennak, you wanted to say?
PENNAKWe have an existing regulatory and legal structure for domestic violence. It's all in the Maryland code. Those little code sections are used frequently in divorces and domestic situations, and as any family law practitioner will tell you, are frequently abused. It's exactly as one of your -- as your caller has mentioned.
PAUGHI would like to say that the greatest risk -- the greatest demographic that -- the demographic at the greatest risk of suicide is actually white males, and they tend to be living in rural counties. And they are also the demographic that is least likely to seek mental health counseling. It's not necessarily considered respectable to admit that you have a mental health problem or an illness. And I would like mental health counseling to be acceptable and available, but get the guns first, and then get the counseling.
NNAMDIWe're running out of time very quickly, but here's Rachel in Washington, DC. Rachel, your turn.
RACHELHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I'm a volunteer with the DC chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. And DC just passed a similar red flag law, and so we're just curious what types of educational efforts are being done in Maryland to help educate the public about this law, so that they know it's available...
NNAMDII'll see if Delegate Valentino-Smith can answer that question. Delegate, can you answer that question?
VALENTINO-SMITHThank you. I think, you know, again, we rely very heavily on law enforcement and Sheriff Popkin and our Moms Demand Action and Marylanders to prevent gun violence. We've relied on our media allies, who have been continuing to publish and cover this, just like this show, to make sure the public knows they have something they can do now to help alleviate this epidemic of gun violence.
NNAMDIIs there a campaign for public education about this law?
VALENTINO-SMITHIt's an informal kind of formalized campaign through law enforcement, all of us working with our constituents and legislators getting information out, and advocacy groups.
NNAMDIShannon Frattaroli, this law is very young in Maryland. It was just enacted in October. How long will researchers have to wait before they have a better sense of whether it's effective or not?
FRATTAROLIWell, we'll need a couple years. We'll need a couple years. So, what we're doing right now is monitoring the process, so understanding how people are using this law, understanding how law enforcement is using this law, how the orders are being served and guns are being removed. So, those are going to be important intermediate steps to have documented, so that when the numbers are large enough, we are ready to conduct an outcome evaluation and assess whether this is making a difference in a statistical sense for suicides and homicides.
NNAMDIOnly have about a minute left, but I want to ask each one of you, what kinds of provisions, if any, would make this bill more effective, in your view? Sheriff.
POPKINI think the bill is new. We've only had four months of it. I think we need some time to make sure that, as it goes forward, that it has an opportunity. And I know that law enforcement is looking for anything that would help make our community safer. And I believe this is one that is making our community safer and saving lives.
NNAMDIDorothy Paugh, any changes that would make this bill more effective?
PAUGHI would like to see a provision for voluntary transfer of guns, so that if the person is willing -- is suicidal and willing to give their guns...
NNAMDIIt doesn't have to go through the petition process.
PAUGHThey don't have to go through the petition process. And there's a definition of transfer bill this year.
PENNAKI'd like to see a court actually order mental health evaluations in every single case, and take the person into custody, if necessary, so that those mental health evaluations can be made by qualified professionals. District court commissioners and district court judges are not qualified to do this.
NNAMDIAlana Wise, Dorothy Paugh, Mark Pennak, Darren Popkin, Shannon Frattaroli, Delegate Geraldine Valentino-Smith, thank you all for joining us. Today's show was produced by Ruth Tam and the Guns and America team. Special thanks goes to research editor, Lisa Dunn . Guns and America is a new public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life. You can read Alana Wise's recent reporting and more at gunsandamerica.org.
NNAMDIComing up tomorrow, the Politics Hour. Virginia's top three elected officials are embroiled in scandal. We'll hear the latest and talk about what's next. Plus, DC Police Chief Peter Newsham talks about the District's response to violent crime. That all starts tomorrow at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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