Connecticut has one of the oldest “red flag” firearm seizure laws in the nation. Back in 1999 lawmakers approved a measure allowing police to file an Extreme Risk Protection Order with a judge in order to seize firearms from individuals that a judge declares could pose a threat to themselves or others, but now legislators are working on plans to expand the law and allow for family members and “medical professionals” to petition the court as well.
Not only that, but the legislation would also extend the time period for the seizure of firearms. At the moment, the state’s red flag orders expire after one year, but under the bills currently being debated, those subject to a red flag seizure would lose access to their firearms indefinitely, or at least until they can demonstrate they’re no longer a threat.
During a Judiciary Committee hearing held by video conference, supporters of the bill said it would save more lives and avoid cases where families seek law enforcement help but police do not act. Opponents said it would open the door for gun seizures to be ordered based on the word of people with an ax to grind, including spurned lovers, and without the law enforcement investigation required under the current law.
Several people who testified told stories of loved ones dying from gun violence.
Jennifer Lawlor, of Bethel, said her 25-year-old daughter, Emily Todd, was shot to death in 2018 by a man she had known for only 18 days, after having told a Bridgeport police dispatcher during a 911 call a week earlier that he was threatening to kill himself and she believed he had a gun.
Todd, who was found shot to death in Bridgeport, also told authorities she feared Brandon Roberts would kill her for talking to the police, Lawlor said. She blamed police for not doing enough to find Roberts and seize his guns before her daughter was killed.
“We simply can no longer have a system that’s dependent solely on the response of a 911 dispatcher and a police department as the only resource someone has when they’re in a crisis,” Lawlor said. “Family members are often the first to recognize when their loved one is in crisis, so it is crucial they have a way to directly petition the court to temporarily remove guns from those who could be a risk to themselves or others.”
My heart goes out to Lawlor, but it’s unclear to me that even the expansion of the state’s red flag law would have made a difference in how the suspect in her daughter’s death would have been treated. After all, her daughter only knew this man for 18 days, so she wasn’t a family member and couldn’t have petitioned the court to seize his guns.
Holly Sullivan, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said she’s worried women who own guns would not seek mental health services in fear of having that treatment used in requests to have their guns seized.
Dr. Walter Kupson, of Middlebury, said he was concerned about the number of people who would be able to request a gun seizure under the new bill, and the potential for lies and abuses of the system.
“My fear is all it would take would be one word from a spurned partner to the judge whose going on one side without any evidence,” he said.
Other opponents questioned whether the changes to the law would deprive people of their constitutional rights by allowing gun seizures without an investigation or probable cause finding by law enforcement, as are required under the current law.
For a variety of reasons, including those listed above, I am not a fan of red flag laws. They turn the legal adage that you’re innocent until proven guilty on its head; stripping people of their legal right to own a firearm if they cannot prove that they’re not a danger to themselves or anyone else. And in the case of those individuals who truly are dangerous, the law allows for their guns to be taken but continues to give them access to knives, pills, gasoline, matches, and any other tool they might use to hurt themselves or others.
Connecticut, like most other states, as a real problem with a lack of inpatient mental health treatment options. A quick look at the list of available beds in the state shows that, as of March 5th, there were only three open beds in the entire state for those needing inpatient psychiatric services. Red flag laws not only violate the rights of legal gun owners by stripping them of their Second Amendment rights before they’ve even been accused of a crime, but they allow legislators to claim they’re “doing something” while continuing to leave the more serious problem of mental health treatment unaddressed.
There are a variety of reasons, in other words, to reject this proposal, but with Democrats in complete control of the state legislature the odds are the the red flag expansion will pass and the state’s mental health crisis will get even worse as a result of lawmakers failing to address the real issue.