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Remem­brance of the lives lost during the Dayton, Ohio shooting in 2019. | Courtesy Flickr

A man in Wash­ington posted on Facebook in June that he wanted to commit a mass shooting at a syn­a­gogue and that he was “shooting for 30 Jews.” He pre­vi­ously posted photos of himself with firearms and Nazi salutes.

Law enforcement officers in Wash­ington obtained an emer­gency risk pro­tection order (ERPO) and removed an AR-15 and 11 other guns from the man’s home. An ERPO is one form of a “red- flag” law.

As radical white suprema­cists, neo-Nazis, and people with mental health issues gain more attention in America, law­makers should support a federal red-flag law that removes guns from dan­gerous people while main­taining due process of the law and pre­serving fun­da­mental Second Amendment rights.

Red-flag laws differ from state to state. Gen­erally speaking, however, law enforcement, family members, and other indi­viduals have the right to file a petition in court asking for a judge to order a dan­gerous person to hand over his firearms to law enforcement. As of Sep­tember 2019, 17 states and the Dis­trict of Columbia have various forms of red-flag laws.

Although ERPOs have the potential to prevent mass shootings, like the case in Wash­ington, they are most effective for pre­venting gun sui­cides and homi­cides. A 2017 study by the Department of Psy­chiatry and Behav­ioral Sci­ences at Duke Uni­versity School of Med­icine found for every 10 to 20 firearm removals under Connecticut’s and Indiana’s extreme risk laws, approx­i­mately one life was saved through an averted suicide.

Another study by the Vio­lence Pre­vention Research Program at the Uni­versity of Cal­i­fornia, Davis found at least 21 cases in which ERPOs in Cal­i­fornia were used to disarm people who threatened mass shootings. At the time of the study, none of the threatened shootings occurred, and no other homi­cides or sui­cides by the people in question were iden­tified.

“Our expec­tation — and this is still true — is that the orders will mostly be used to prevent sui­cides,” said Dr. Garen Win­temute, director of the Vio­lence Pre­vention Research Program at UC Davis told the Ventura County Star. “What we weren’t expecting… was the fre­quency with which orders arose because the public pro­vided tips about mass shootings.”

Pro-gun groups worry that ERPOs won’t protect the individual’s right to due process. In a statement issued in January of this year, the National Rifle Asso­ci­ation said that it sup­ports ERPOs laws in states where due process is pro­tected, and the ERPO process should allow an indi­vidual to chal­lenge or ter­minate the order. The NRA also holds that there needs to be a mech­anism in place for the return of firearms upon ter­mi­nation of an ERPO.

“The NRA believes that any effort should be struc­tured to fully protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding cit­izens while pre­venting truly dan­gerous indi­viduals from accessing firearms,” the NRA’s legal team wrote.

Addi­tionally, the NRA laid out very spe­cific require­ments for ERPO processes that it could support. One of the require­ments directly addresses mental health issues. If an ERPO is granted, the NRA holds that the person should receive com­munity-based mental treatment.

Some gun owners are con­cerned that left-leaning judges will be more willing to order the removal of an individual’s firearms.

Allison Anderman, the senior counsel at Gif­fords Law Center — which spe­cializes in researching, writing and defending laws to protect lives from gun vio­lence — said most ERPOs follow the same legal pro­ce­dures as other types of restraining orders and are con­sistent with America’s demo­c­ratic system.

The House Judi­ciary Com­mittee recently advanced three gun-control bills in its first week back from recess after 38 people died in mass shootings during the month of August.

Democrats in the House Judi­ciary Com­mittee expect these bills to reach the House floor in the next few weeks. One bill is a federal red-flag law, the other bill would outlaw large-capacity mag­a­zines, and the third bill would pro­hibit those con­victed of a mis­de­meanor hate crime from owning a weapon.

Of all the bills that could pos­sibly make it to the floor for argu­ments, the most rea­sonable is H.R. 1236: Extreme Risk Pro­tection Order Act of 2019 — what would become the federal red-flag law.

This federal ERPO is the best point of com­promise for Democrats and Repub­licans as Con­gress tries to figure out the best way to respond to recent mass shootings.

In 13 of the 17 states with red-flag laws, family members are allowed to file a petition for an ERPO. Anderman, however, said her research shows that law enforcement officers file far more peti­tions than family members across those 13 states.

The Dis­trict of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, and New York have some of the strictest gun-control laws, allowing non-family members to file a petition. Florida, Rhode Island, and Vermont, however, allow only law enforcement or other state offi­cials to petition.

After 31 people died in the mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas, a Ras­mussen Reports survey of 1,000 voters found that a record-high number of voters believe the United States needs stricter gun-control laws. Breaking the pre­vious high of 57% in June 2016, 64% of 1,000 voters support stricter gun control laws.

In an interview with the Wash­ington Post, the Dayton shooter’s ex-girl­friend said the killer heard voices, suf­fered trou­bling hal­lu­ci­na­tions, and battled psy­chosis from his youth. The El Paso gunman pub­lished a racist man­i­festo before the shooting in which he described his attack as a “response to the His­panic invasion of Texas.”

While red-flag laws won’t stop every mass shooting, homicide, or suicide, they can prevent the fre­quency of such tragedies. Con­gress should pass a federal red-flag law to prevent dan­gerous people from pos­sessing firearms.

Had Ohio and Texas had some form of a red-flag law, it’s pos­sible that both the Dayton and El Paso shooters could have received a court order to give up their firearms.

Julia Mullins junior studying pol­itics and is the city news editor.