Florida 'red flag' gun law used 3,500 times since Parkland

TERRY SPENCER

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A 23-year-old man who posted on Facebook, “I don't know why I don't go on a killing spree." A West Palm Beach couple who shot up their home while high on cocaine. A 31-year-old Gulf Coast man who pointed a semiautomatic rifle at a motorcyclist.

All four Florida residents had their guns taken away by judges under a “red flag” law the state passed three weeks after authorities say a mentally disturbed man killed 17 people in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland two years ago Friday.

The law, supported by legislators of both parties , has been applied more than 3,500 times since, with the pace accelerating during the last half of 2019. Even so, an Associated Press analysis of the law showed its use is inconsistent, with some counties and cities using it rarely and others not at all.

Advocates of Florida's red flag measure say before it existed, it was often difficult to remove firearms from those making threats or suffering severe mental breakdowns. Investigators did not act on reports that the Parkland shooter was threatening to carry out a school massacre. But even if they had, it is likely he would have been allowed to keep his guns because he had no felony convictions or involuntary, long-term mental commitments, they say.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who leads a commission that investigated the massacre's causes, says the shooter would have easily qualified for a red flag order. Gualtieri says while it is impossible to say that would have prevented the shooting, the gunman wouldn't have been able to legally buy weapons or ammunition, making his preparation difficult.

“We have needed this law for decades,” said Gualtieri, who started a unit in his department that handles only red flag cases.

But the law also has vocal critics: those who say it violates the U.S. and state constitutions, including the right to bear arms, and others who argue that laws already on the books in Florida made it unnecessary. Still others say it discriminates against the poor: Because the hearing with a judge is not a criminal proceeding, low-income defendants aren't provided with a free lawyer.

Sixteen other states plus the District of Columbia have similar laws, 11 of which were enacted after the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Stoneman Douglas. President Donald Trump has at times supported a federal proposal, but has not strongly advocated it before Congress.

To get an order in Florida, police agencies must file a request with a civil court, citing serious mental illness or threats a person has made. If the judge agrees, the person must surrender their firearms to police. Within two weeks, a hearing is held during which the judge decides whether to take the person's weapons away for a year. Police agencies can apply for an extension if there is evidence a person remains a threat after a year. If not, the guns are returned.

Orlando attorney Kendra Parris, who is trying to get a case before the state Supreme Court to overturn the law, says it doesn't adequately define some terms, such as what constitutes serious mental health issues. And in any case, she says, other Florida statutes, such as misdemeanor breach of the peace, already allow police to take firearms from the truly dangerous before they act. That statute could easily have been invoked against the Stoneman Douglas shooter, she said.

“Probably two dozen times this guy could have been charged for breach of the peace and had his firearms removed,” Parris said.

The AP analysis shows that from March 2018, when the law was enacted, through December 2019, there was a wide disparity in its per capita usage in Florida's 67 counties. Twenty issued at least one for every 5,500 residents during that time period, the statewide average. Three issued at least one for every 2,000 residents, including Gualtieri's Pinellas County, which includes the Tampa Bay area, and has nearly 1 million people. Highlands County, near Lake Okeechobee, ranked No. 1, issuing one for every 850 residents.

On the other extreme, 12 counties issued one for every 30,000 residents or less. Two neighboring Panhandle counties — Escambia and Santa Rosa — issued one for every 100,000 residents or more. Another nine small, rural counties issued none.

Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman said he doesn't know why his county is No. 1, but he noted that his deputies average two calls daily for mental health crises. The county has just over 100,000 residents and was the scene of a bank shooting last year that left five women dead.

“If someone has made a threat to hurt themselves or others and is intent on using a firearm, we will try to get a risk protection order against them so we can take away those guns,” Blackman said. But even the law isn't a guarantee: Two Highlands men who received orders still killed themselves, one with carbon monoxide and the other with an illegally obtained gun, he said.

The sheriffs whose counties had no or few red flag orders during the reviewed period said in an AP questionnaire that they are not philosophically opposed to the law — they just haven't needed it.

Santa Rosa Sheriff Bob Johnson said it was a “fluke” that his county of 155,000 had only issued one order. Baker County Maj. Randy Crews explained that the lack of red flag orders from his county on the Georgia border west of Jacksonville has to do with the fact that his deputies know most of the 27,000 residents and can intercede quickly if someone is having a breakdown and making threats.

Crews said most potential red flag cases are asked to surrender their guns to a relative, who is told to not return them until the person finishes mental health treatment. He said that approach works better than confrontation and has never backfired. He said the office would not hesitate to use the law, however, if someone didn't cooperate.

  • 'Boogaloo' arrests in Nevada portray extremists using protests to incite civil war 
    Yahoo News

    'Boogaloo' arrests in Nevada portray extremists using protests to incite civil war 

    Two men charged with conspiring to incite violence and civil unrest at protests over the killing of George Floyd previously sought to do the same thing at protests against coronavirus lockdowns, in both instances seeking to promote their extremist agenda, federal prosecutors say. Federal agents arrested the men, Stephen Parshall and Andrew Lynam, along with a third man, William Loomis, before they allegedly planned to disrupt a Black Lives Matter protest in Las Vegas. According to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Nevada, all three, who are white and have U.S. military experience, “self-identified as part of the 'boogaloo' movement,” a disparate yet growing collection of extremists, including far-right militias, radical gun rights activists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

  • Trump says the economy will cure the 'very sad problem' of police killing blacks
    Yahoo News

    Trump says the economy will cure the 'very sad problem' of police killing blacks

    Over the past two days, President Trump has twice been asked how he plans to address the systemic racism in U.S. police departments spotlighted by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and both times he has made clear that he believes the solution is a healthy economy. In a Thursday radio interview with Fox News host Brian Kilmeade, Trump was asked about his reaction to the fact that just 36 percent of African-Americans say they trust local police, compared with 70 percent of whites. “Well, I think it's a very sad problem,” Trump replied.

  • Tropical Storm Cristobal advances toward US Gulf Coast
    Associated Press

    Tropical Storm Cristobal advances toward US Gulf Coast

    A re-energized Tropical Storm Cristobal advanced toward the U.S. Gulf Coast on Saturday, spawning a tornado in Florida and bringing the heavy rains that already caused flooding and mudslides in Mexico and Central America. After weakening to a tropical depression while moving over land in Mexico's Gulf coast, Cristobal headed back into the southern Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatan Peninsula on Friday and powered back up into a tropical storm. Forecasters said it would arrive on U.S. soil Sunday but was not expected to grow into a hurricane.

  • Tom Cotton’s Foes Are Embracing Authoritarianism
    The National Interest

    Tom Cotton’s Foes Are Embracing Authoritarianism

    It was probably inevitable that, at some point, the New York Times would become engulfed in the national controversy over racism and everything else about America that liberals find dismaying. The proximate cause of the uproar at the Times is an op-ed called “Send In the Troops” by Senator Tom Cotton. In it Cotton announced—what else?—that it's time to send in the military to clean out America's cities of “nihilist protesters.”

  • Watch Lightning Strike the Washington Monument, Then Watch It Again
    Popular Mechanics

    Watch Lightning Strike the Washington Monument, Then Watch It Again

    Lightning causes a huge amount of damage every year, mostly to property much closer to the ground. The marble Washington Monument is topped with a set of lightning rods. A Washington, D.C. news channel captured astonishing footage of lightning repeatedly striking the Washington Monument on Thursday night.

  • Two Buffalo policemen charged for shoving 75-year-old protester
    BBC

    Two Buffalo policemen charged for shoving 75-year-old protester

    The two officers were enforcing a curfew in the city as a result of protests since the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis last month. Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe, members of the Emergency Response Team, were suspended without pay after footage of the incident outside the City Hall went viral. Fifty-seven of their colleagues - the entire unit - later resigned from the team in response to the officers' suspension.

  • OPEC, Russia extend record oil cuts to end of July
    Reuters

    OPEC, Russia extend record oil cuts to end of July

    OPEC, Russia and allies agreed on Saturday to extend record oil production cuts until the end of July, prolonging a deal that has helped crude prices double in the past two months by withdrawing almost 10% of global supplies from the market. The group, known as OPEC+, also demanded countries such as Nigeria and Iraq, which exceeded production quotas in May and June, compensate with extra cuts in July to September. OPEC+ had initially agreed in April that it would cut supply by 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) during May-June to prop up prices that collapsed due to the coronavirus crisis.

  • Venezuela's Guaido reappears after claim he hid in French embassy
    AFP

    Venezuela's Guaido reappears after claim he hid in French embassy

    Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido reappeared in the street in videos distributed Saturday by his team and parliamentary allies, after foreign minister Jorge Arreaza claimed he had taken refuge in the French embassy in Caracas. Guaido, the parliamentary speaker who is recognized as interim president of Venezuela by 50 countries, was referring to the accusation by the United States of "narcoterrorism" against the socialist government of Nicolas Maduro. The videos -- which did not specify the date or location they were filmed -- were released after Arreaza on Thursday said Guaido was hiding in the French embassy, and demanded he be handed over to "Venezuelan justice."

  • China Promises ‘Consequences’ if Britain Grants Haven for Hong Kong Residents
    National Review

    China Promises ‘Consequences’ if Britain Grants Haven for Hong Kong Residents

    China is warning that the United Kingdom is opening itself up to serious “consequences” if it follows through on a plan to offer refuge and a path to citizenship for nearly three million Hong Kong citizens should China implement a restrictive national security law. China believes that “Hong Kong people who were born in Hong Kong are Chinese nationals,” said Chen Wen, Minister and First Staff Member of Chinese Embassy in London, in a BBC interview. “There will be consequences, that's for sure,” Wen said.

  • Aerial footage shows colossal crowds gathered in Philadelphia to protest against police brutality
    INSIDER

    Aerial footage shows colossal crowds gathered in Philadelphia to protest against police brutality

    Thousands gathered in Philadelphia on Saturday to protest against police brutality and George Floyd's death. The protests took over the whole city, with an aerial view of the demonstrations trending on Twitter. People held protests as a result of George Floyd's death across the country on Saturday, with large gatherings happening from San Francisco to New York.

  • Trump praises success against coronavirus in states that are seeing cases spike
    Yahoo News

    Trump praises success against coronavirus in states that are seeing cases spike

    In a White House Rose Garden press conference meant to highlight the gain of 2.5 million jobs in May after two months of devastating job losses, President Trump lamented that “many of our states are closed or almost closed” because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 110,000 Americans. “I hope that the lockdown governors — I don't know why they continue to lock down,” Trump said, presumably referring to states like New York and New Jersey that have taken a more cautious approach to lifting restrictions on large social gatherings and some forms of commercial activity.

  • The 20 Best Podcasts About All Things Tech
    Popular Mechanics

    The 20 Best Podcasts About All Things Tech

    From the sounds behind the Star Wars franchise, to the history of the worst video game ever invented, these tech podcasts are must-listens for the 21st century. From Popular Mechanics

  • Tropical Storm Cristobal aims at Gulf Coast
    Yahoo News Video

    Tropical Storm Cristobal aims at Gulf Coast

    Tropical Storm Cristobal in the southern Gulf of Mexico is beginning on a path expected to take it to the Gulf Coast along with the heavy rains that have caused flooding and mudslides in Mexico and Central America.

  • On sad anniversary, few to mourn the D-Day dead in Normandy
    Associated Press

    On sad anniversary, few to mourn the D-Day dead in Normandy

    SAINT-LAURENT-SUR-MER, France (AP) — At least the dead will always be there. All too many have been, for 76 years since that fateful June 6 on France's Normandy beaches, when allied troops in 1944 turned the course of World War II and went on to defeat fascism in Europe in one of the most remarkable feats in military history. “I miss the others," said Charles Shay, who as a U.S. Army medic was in the first wave of soldiers to wade ashore at Omaha Beach under relentless fire on D-Day.

  • Alabama shooting: Seven people found dead in ‘horrific’ scene at home
    The Independent

    Alabama shooting: Seven people found dead in ‘horrific’ scene at home

    Seven people have been found shot dead in an Alabama home in what police described as a “horrific” scene. Police were responding to an emergency call reporting gunshots on Sunday evening when they arrived to find the house on fire. When the fire was extinguished, seven adult victims, both men and women, were found inside the home.

  • U.S. envoy to U.N. pushes back against criticism over protests
    Reuters

    U.S. envoy to U.N. pushes back against criticism over protests

    U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft on Friday pushed back against criticism from China and Iran over the protests across the United States about racial inequality and excessive police force, challenging them to compare records. China and Iran, described respectively in the past as authoritarian and a mafia-like state by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, both urged the United States in recent days to tackle racism and protect minorities' rights. The largely peaceful U.S. protests over the past 10 days were sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis with a white policeman's knee on his neck.

  • Las Vegas has 'soft opening' amid George Floyd protests and coronavirus pandemic
    USA TODAY

    Las Vegas has 'soft opening' amid George Floyd protests and coronavirus pandemic

    LAS VEGAS – A new commercial beckoning travelers to return here was ready to go. The 30-second ad showed a suited man flipping a lever and powering up the slumbering Las Vegas Strip in a spectacular burst of electricity and color. It was set for launch on Tuesday morning, two days before casinos planned to end the coronavirus shutdown and open doors to visitors for the first time in almost 80 days.

  • Corrupt Cop Linked to Trump Tower Lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya Exposes Russian Ops
    The Daily Beast

    Corrupt Cop Linked to Trump Tower Lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya Exposes Russian Ops

    LONDON—A corrupt former police officer who was caught working with Trump Tower lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya has revealed in a Swiss court how Russia's complex foreign influence campaign targets justice systems in Western countries. The former consultant to the Swiss Federal Prosecutor's Office was sacked and convicted after his entanglement with Veselnitskaya and the Russian prosecutor general's office was exposed. On the visit to the spectacular Kamchatka Peninsula and Lake Baikal, the official, who is identified only as Victor K., reportedly admitted that he spent a week fishing, enjoying the rugged countryside, and hunting for bear, including from a helicopter, with officials from the Russian prosecutor general's office.

  • 'Kettling' of Peaceful Protesters Shows Aggressive Shift by New York Police
    The New York Times

    'Kettling' of Peaceful Protesters Shows Aggressive Shift by New York Police

    It was about 8:45 p.m. in Brooklyn on Wednesday, 45 minutes past the city's curfew, when a peaceful protest march encountered a line of riot police, near Cadman Plaza. Hundreds of demonstrators stood there for 10 minutes, chanting, arms raised, until their leaders decided to turn the group around and leave the area. What they had not seen was that riot police had flooded the plaza behind them, engaging in a law enforcement tactic called kettling, which involves encircling protesters so that they have no way to exit from a park, city block or other public space, and then charging them and making arrests.

  • White bystanders armed with rifles watch Floyd protesters march in Indiana
    Politico

    White bystanders armed with rifles watch Floyd protesters march in Indiana

    Protesters in a rural Indiana city who took to the streets to condemn racism and police killings of black people encountered bystanders who were holding rifles during the demonstration. A video that circulated on social media shows 21 people standing along a bike trail near downtown Crown Point, Indiana, watching protesters march past them Monday during a peaceful protest against police brutality and racism. Eight of the bystanders held firearms, an act Crown Point Police Chief Pete Land said is protected under state law.

  • Denver police fire pepper balls at man yelling that his pregnant fiancée is in car
    NBC News

    Denver police fire pepper balls at man yelling that his pregnant fiancée is in car

    The Denver Police Department is investigating an incident from last week that was caught on video and has gone viral showing officers spraying pepper balls at a man who is screaming that he has a pregnant woman in his car. Videos of the incident, which happened early Saturday morning, shared on Twitter and YouTube shows the man getting out of his stopped car to yell at officers: "You shot up a car with a pregnant woman in it, with f--king tear gas." The man is outside of the car on the driver's side, and the passenger's side, where a woman is sitting, is closest to the officers.

  • Airlines braced for quarantine rules chaos
    The Telegraph

    Airlines braced for quarantine rules chaos

    Airlines and airports are bracing for chaos on Monday after they were issued with strict new quarantine rules on Friday afternoon, leaving them with a race to implement them. Passengers arriving in the UK must fill out an online form 48 hours before they travel. Operational guidance issued to airlines on how the 14-day quarantine will be administered, seen by The Telegraph, reveals those flying and airlines face hefty fines for failing to comply with the rules.

  • China urges citizens to shun Australia as dispute simmers
    Associated Press

    China urges citizens to shun Australia as dispute simmers

    China is advising its citizens not to visit Australia, citing racial discrimination and violence against Asians, in what appears to be Beijing's latest attempt to punish the country for advocating an investigation into the coronavirus pandemic. A notice issued by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism late Friday said there has “been an increase in words and deeds of racial discrimination and acts of violence against Chinese and Asians in Australia, due to the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.” “The ministry advises Chinese tourists to raise their safety awareness and avoid travelling to Australia,” the notice said.

  • One of the officers charged in George Floyd's killing was hired despite having a criminal record and slew of traffic violations
    INSIDER

    One of the officers charged in George Floyd's killing was hired despite having a criminal record and slew of traffic violations

    Hennepin County Sheriff's Office Before he was hired as a Minneapolis police officer, Thomas Lane collected a laundry list of criminal charges and traffic citations, according to records obtained by Insider. Lane was fired on May 26, one day after George Floyd was killed in police custody. Lane has since been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

  • Mexico governor apologizes for police abuses, searches for missing people
    Reuters

    Mexico governor apologizes for police abuses, searches for missing people

    The governor of a Mexican state roiled by clashes between security forces and demonstrators on Saturday apologized for police abuses and pledged to track down a number of people reported missing after the disturbances. Enrique Alfaro, governor of the western region of Jalisco, said he was appalled that police in the state capital Guadalajara had on Friday beaten people who were demonstrating over the death of man in police custody last month. "It embarrasses me, it distresses me, it greatly pains me as a man from Jalisco, and as governor," Alfaro said in a video posted on Twitter.