Florida’s Red Flag Law Comes Under Scrutiny Amid Rising Gun Deaths and Mixed Results on Mass Shootings

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Florida’s red flag law, implemented in response to the devastating shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, aims to prevent potential crimes by allowing the state to seize firearms from individuals deemed at risk. Since the law’s passage, over 12,000 people have temporarily lost access to their weapons based on reports received from concerned family members or friends, as state records indicate.

Under this legislation, a judge can issue a temporary risk protection order, preventing a gun owner from having access to their firearms. These weapons can then be placed in the custody of a family member or trusted acquaintance, ensuring that the individual named in the order cannot retrieve them. After 30 days, police authorities evaluate whether to pursue a final order, which could effectively prevent the person from accessing firearms for at least a year.

One case that showcases the continued significance of the red flag law involves Karl Chludinsky, who had his guns returned to him after more than a year without access. However, the threat he posed did not subside. On March 21, Chludinsky engaged in a shootout with Fort Lauderdale police officers at a local hotel, injuring one officer before being fatally shot himself.

Supporters argue that the law’s preventative measures are crucial for public safety. Fred Guttenberg, a proponent of gun control who lost his daughter in the Stoneman Douglas shooting, highlights the effectiveness of the law by stating, “The law’s been used 12,000 times… there are many potential threats that were stopped before they could happen.”

However, determining the long-term impact of the law on crime rates in Florida remains challenging, as it is only one factor among many. Despite the presence of the red flag law, gun deaths in the state have actually increased, rising from 12.9 per 100,000 in 2018 to 14.1 in 2023, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Nevertheless, data from the Gun Violence Archive suggests a decline in incidents categorized as “mass shootings” within Florida. The Archive defines such incidents as those where at least four individuals are shot, regardless of whether they survive. While this may indicate progress, Guttenberg believes it is essential to acknowledge the surge in the number of firearms present in Florida over the past five years.

Bob Gualtieri, Pinellas County Sheriff and chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Safety Commission, which advocated for the law, firmly supports its impact, saying, “There’s no question that it has prevented harm. No doubt in my mind.”

In a recent visit to the Stoneman Douglas shooting site, Vice President Kamala Harris announced her commitment to expanding red flag laws nationwide through the establishment of a new National Extreme Risk Protection Order Resource Center.

Initially, voices questioning the law were cautious, but opposition from gun rights advocates has grown more prominent over time. Crime Prevention Research Center President John Lott, in collaboration with U.S. Representative Thomas Massie, expressed concerns regarding the limited power granted to wrongly accused gun owners. They argued that a judge solely relies on a written complaint and never directly interacts with the complainant or the accused individual.

A prime example cited by Lott and Massie was the case of Andrew Pollack, father of a Stoneman Douglas victim. Pollack, a resident of Oregon, had his guns returned after a judge concluded that he had not made any threats indicating a risk of using firearms. Despite this criticism, Fort Lauderdale lawyer David Brill, representing Pollack, emphasizes that the potential for abuse should not overshadow the law’s underlying value.

The Florida red flag law is hailed as a preventive measure, but its overall impact on crime rates remains complex and multifaceted. As the state contemplates the effectiveness and potential drawbacks, the balancing act between public safety and individual rights remains a contentious issue.