If Florida’s “red flag” law had been in place at the time, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said Tuesday, it’s possible the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre could have been prevented.
Bradshaw testified about red flag laws before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which may advance legislation encouraging states to implement their own versions of the laws that allow courts to order removal of guns from people who pose a threat to themselves or others.
The sheriff cautioned, however, that red flag laws authorizing what are formally known as “risk protection orders” aren’t a panacea.
“The use of the risk protection order appears to be a valuable tool, and I stress that tool. It’s not the end all,” he said. “It is just another tool in the tool box to use to make sure that once we identify this person that has that propensity to do what they’ve indicated they are going to do — which this kid in Parkland did several times.”
He touted the Behavioral Services Unit teams in place at his agency, in which deputies work with mental health professionals to interact with people who might have difficulties.
Bradshaw emphasized that it’s not an easy area to assess. Not every person who has mental health issues becomes violent.
And guns aren’t the only thing that can be used to commit a violent act, he said. “It could be a car. It could be a rock. It could be a pressure cooker. So sometimes it’s not the instrument, it’s the hands of who you put this instrument in.”
Pressure cookers were used to make bombs that were detonated at the Boston Marathon in 2013.
In Parkland, many things went wrong. “It’s my belief that in Broward you had three or four different agencies that knew this individual was a problem, knew that he had issues that he was dealing with,” he said.
If his agency’s unit had been in place in Broward, Bradshaw said the shooter likely would have received intervention, at least being held for up to 72 hours for psychiatric observation under the state’s Baker Act.
Still, his weapons wouldn’t have been confiscated unless he’d been arrested, Bradshaw said. A red flag law “absolutely” could have prevented the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre in which 17 people were killed and 17 injured at the Parkland School.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, had the same conclusion.
“The evidence about how these laws work is pretty impressive,” Graham said, citing Florida’s experience since it passed a red flag law after the Parkland shooting. At Stoneman Douglas, Graham said, “if the law enforcement community had these tools they could intervene and they could do something about it.”
Graham, who described himself as a gun owner and “big fan of the Second Amendment,” said people shouldn’t fear mass gun seizures.
“Nobody’s going to come and take your gun from you, but there will be a process for law enforcement and family members to petition a court to say somebody in your neighborhood or somebody down the street or across town is about to blow,” Graham said
He also said a red flag law wouldn’t be required nationally. Instead, he said, a federal law would likely encourage states to pass their own versions of a red flag law.
At one point during the hearing, while U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was talking, a woman in the audience stood up and demanded that the committee act to “end gun terror.” As she was being removed, she said, “People are dying. You’re killing them.”
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