Study Raises Questions About Connecticut's Red Flag Law

AP Photo/Brittainy Newman

Red flag laws suck. 

There's really no way to get around the fact that they're horrific infringements on people's gun rights and due process rights while doing little to nothing to actually keep the public safe from the truly disturbed.

What's more, there are a lot of questions about how to gauge the usefulness of the laws in general. Just because it infringes on someone's rights doesn't mean it works. It also doesn't mean that it doesn't work, either.

Yet most of the time, justification for red flag laws comes in the form of how often they're used, rather than anything else. If it's not used often, it's a failure of people to actually use the law, but when they're used a great deal, that's a sign that the law is working.

It's a joke.

A recent study is taking issue with how they're used in Connecticut.

An analysis by The Connecticut Mirror and a team of University of Connecticut journalism students shows its use remains wildly uneven among police departments, even nearly 25 years after it went into effect and a number of modifications. While there are some concerns the law is being overused, some police departments use it rarely if at all.

Steep increase in risk protection orders

An analysis of thousands of court documents submitted by police from October 1999 through December 2023 shows that even as lawmakers over the past few years expanded the circumstances in which police can get a risk protection order, how police departments use them varies widely. 

Last year, more than 2,000 risk protection orders were issued, a steep increase.

Bridgeport police did not issue one RPO in 2023, records show, a number the president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association said was hard to believe.

Meanwhile, University of Connecticut police issued 58 risk protection orders against students from June 2022 through the end of  2023. None of them involved guns, and all but one was dismissed 14 days later when the student appeared before a Superior Court judge. 

The law took effect in October 1999, but it wasn’t until 2011 that risk protection orders issued by all police departments surpassed 100 in one year. 

The number slowly increased until changes were first made to the law in 2021. Since then, the numbers have increased from 222 orders that year to 830 orders in 2022 to over 2,200 last year.

The questions revolve around an instance when police failed to get a red flag order against a man who admitted to mental health officials that he had homicidal thoughts toward his ex-girlfriend. The providers notified police, but the police dropped the ball.

But again, this really is just another case of looking at the number of orders issued and assuming they're used correctly.

Sure, they note that in the beginning, judges dismissed orders after the initial 14 days if the subject didn't own guns and that they don't do that now, but there was never any attempt to find a correlation between that and any kind of statistics.

I did, though. Maybe not a detailed statistical analysis, but I took a gander at some numbers.

For example, the prevention of suicides is one selling point for red flag laws. Yet in 1999, when Connecticut passed its red flag law, the state had 290 suicides. Do you know how many times since then the number has dipped below that since then? Three times.

Three times in 25 years since the law was passed, the state has actually had fewer suicides.

And homicides aren't a whole lot better. There was, admittedly, a drop in homicides, but there was a drop in homicides across the entire nation There's nothing there that looks more dramatic than what we saw nationwide. In fact, Connecticut saw increases at times when other places saw decreases, all in spite of a law that lets them take guns from supposedly dangerous people.

I get that not everyone views gun rights the way I do. For me, red flag laws should be removed because they're an infringement of people's rights. Not everyone sees it that way, which I get. But if the only thing we can find is that the law infringes on people's rights, then how can anyone support that law in the first place?