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Red Flag flawed, but it can work

March 1, 2019 12:00 am

Men and women in law enforcement are likely to be suspicious by nature and occupation. Their job is to question everything — that’s who they are. But their responses to the state’s new gun law accentuated the negatives and minimized the positives.

Local law enforcement officials expressed doubts about the Red Flag Gun Law that will allow citizens to petition courts to take guns away from people who may be a danger to themselves or others.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation Monday that would allow people to petition for an order, similar to an order of protection, to keep certain individuals from purchasing or owning a firearm.

Under the law, courts can issue an extreme risk protection order preventing individuals who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing any type of firearm.

A petitioner can file the application for an extreme risk protection order in county courts with supporting documentation, and that is the key. Courts can then issue a temporary order based on several criteria including threats of violence, violations of orders of protection, any pending charges involving a firearm, reckless use of firearms and evidence of recent or ongoing substance abuse. But the applicant must be able to prove there is extreme risk.

The law could be useful in preventing violent incidents, but the potential for abuses exists, said Greene County District Attorney Joseph Stanzione.

“This law is interesting because it could be a useful tool in some extreme situations,” Stanzione said. “For example, there is an individual who owns guns and starts speaking in a way that suggests they will hurt themselves or others. The person who files for an order is either a person who has a sincere concern for this person or has been a target of a threat. There is an immediate removal of the person’s weapons and a quick hearing process.”

The law requires a hearing three to six business days after the temporary order is issued.

Abuses already exist in the process for orders of protections, Stanzione said, and those same abuses could exist with the new law.

“People can file for an order to cause someone to lose their job or have their guns taken away,” Stanzione said. “There should be extreme penalties for such abuse.”

We agree the possibility exists for someone with an ax to grind to use the gun law against another law-abiding citizen, but this is true of just about any law, and it’s up to lawmen to stop abuses.

Laws are made to be enforced, and if we take the keys away from drunken drivers and issue orders of protection to keep abusive men far away from women, we can ask courts to take guns out of the hands of people proven to be dangerous to themselves or others. Red Flag may not be perfect — what law is? — but if it can disarm a potential mass shooter and save lives, it’s perfect enough.