The recent Florida school shooting is bringing attention to what are known as “red flag laws.” They allow family members or police to ask a judge to take away someone’s gun rights if there’s a threat of danger.
In Georgia, there are a couple of ways judges can order someone’s guns taken away. Police with imminent concerns can go to a probate judge like Susan Tate in Athens-Clarke County.
“On occasion, I have ordered several weapons to be seized in connection with an order to have somebody evaluated to see if they may need to be subject to involuntary [mental health] treatment proceedings,” Tate said.
She can do that only if two law enforcement officers who’ve seen the person in the last 48 hours give testimony in an emergency request.
“So if the FBI came here and said, ‘We got a tip from somebody, and we looked online, and it looks like they’re dangerous. Give us an order and seize their weapons,’ I couldn’t do anything,” Tate said.
Superior Court judges also have discretion to order someone’s guns seized as part of a temporary protection order. Tate said such actions typically last for a few days or weeks before a hearing must take place. It could last up to a year at most.
A measure being considered in Florida and several other states would allow family members, guardians or law enforcement to request someone’s weapons be temporarily seized if that person could be a danger to themselves or others — not strictly someone with a potential mental health concern. Five states have some version of red flag laws.
Researchers who’ve looked at the impact in Connecticut have found this measure is mostly used to try to prevent suicide. Suicides make up around two-thirds of gun deaths nationally. In Georgia, 60 percent of people who kill themselves use guns.
Judge Tate says she thinks a red flag law could have a huge impact here.
But gun rights advocates, like Georgia Carry’s Jerry Henry, are not partial to this idea.
“We will not give up due process in any instance,” Henry said.
There is a longer process that strips people of their gun rights if they’re forced to undergo mental health treatment. But both Henry and Tate agree there remains a significant concern with a state law mandating Georgia Bureau Investigation’s current practice of purging those state-maintained records after a five-year period.
They support the passage of a bill that would retain the records, Georgia Senate Bill 99. It stalled last year.
Even if it passes, “the database is so full of holes,” said Tate, who chairs the Weapons Carry License Committee for the Council of Probate Court Judges of Georgia.
She says many people are not reported to the national background check system when they should be, and people often choose to undergo voluntary treatment to avoid being placed on the list.
No one has introduced a red flag bill for consideration in Georgia.
Gun control advocates in the state say they’re ramping up other legislative efforts this year, including measures to protect domestic violence survivors and opposition to permitless carry.
A state Capitol lobbying day organized by Everytown for Gun Safety says it’s seen public interest mushroom in the days following the shooting in Florida.