Prior to the mass shooting in Dadeville, Senator Merika Coleman filed Senate Bill 126. If passed, the bill would put formal court procedures in place for teachers, law enforcement, and family members to petition for a gun violence protective order if the person poses an immediate and present danger of causing personal injury to themselves or someone else.
A gun violence protection order would require a person to turn over any guns or ammunition to law enforcement. It would also prohibit them from getting any new guns for a year.
19 states and the District of Columbia already have red flag laws on the books.
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"As a gun owner myself, I don't want anybody taking away my guns, but I also want to be able to remove guns from those who don't need to have them," said Coleman at a joint press conference with the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus Monday in the aftermath of the Dadeville shooting.
SB 126 lays out the process to submit a petition for a protective order, granting the order, and how orders are tracked.
"Such orders would require those individuals to surrender all firearms to law enforcement until they get a chance to have that hearing two weeks later," said Coleman.
During the hearing, the court can grant a one-year gun violence protective order if the evidence presented shows a person poses an immediate danger. SB 126 provides for the renewal or early termination of the order. If a person seeks early termination of the order, the burden of proof is on them to show they do not pose a threat.
During the hearing, the court could take into consideration:
There is no requirement for mental health evaluations.
University of Alabama law professor, Fredrick Vars, said that's normal for red flag laws.
"Clearly a person that is psychotic or suicidal, obviously, presents the kind of danger that the order is targeted to but it's not limited to someone with a mental health issue. Someone could be drunk. Someone could be in a domestic violence situation. Someone could be threatening to shoot up a school that has no mental health issue or no documented mental health issue. That's part of the appeal actually of red flag laws is they are not just based on a stereotype about people with mental illness. They are recognizing that in certain circumstances anyone can pose a serious serious threat of harm with a gun," he explained.
Vars has studied red flag laws in other states. He's also worked to create legislation with Alabama lawmakers. He's currently working on Donna's Law which is legislation that would allow for a voluntary protective order.
Once an order is granted, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency would put the identity of the person, the date the order is issued, renewed, dissolved, or terminated, and when the order expires into a searchable database for use at the request of law enforcement agencies. If the person was in court to be advised about the order or if they did not appear will also be information included in the database.
The information will also be submitted to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
According to Vars, Alabama's permitless carry law would not impact the effectiveness of a red flag law due to federally required background checks.
"Federal law requires background checks. Nothing Alabama can do would affect that. Getting rid of the permit requirement is a moment in which a background check, I think, is performed before they issue a permit. That step is eliminated but anytime there is a transfer of a gun from a federally licensed gun dealer to someone else--no permit required, but you still have to go through the federal background check system," said Vars.
Any health information provided during a hearing that identifies a person will not be public information, except that the information may be given to law enforcement, according to the bill. Statistical information like the number of orders issued, renewed, denied, or dissolved would be available at public request.
If a person under a gun violence protective order is found with a gun they could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor under SB 126. If convicted, they would be unable to have a gun for five years.
A petitioner may also be charged with a Class C misdemeanor if they know the information they are providing is untrue.
Vars explained the inspiration for red flag laws comes from temporary restraining orders in the context of domestic violence.
"Many of those orders do restrict the possession of a firearm if you are in the middle of a heated divorce, have been violating a protective order, threatening your spouse, the court will issue an order saying you aren't allowed to have a gun. This broadens that concept beyond domestic violence," he said.
Vars said red flag laws have been around for many years, although an influx of laws was passed after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. He said there are significant studies that show the benefits of red flag laws.
"A really good study in Connecticut found that for every 10 protective orders issued and guns removed, one suicide was prevented. That's a study over many years. Hundreds of gun seizures, so you're talking dozens, perhaps, of suicides prevented," said Vars. "There are many instances where the basis for the removal of a gun was a threatened mass shooting. Mass shootings are in the news a lot tragically, but there aren't nearly as many as there are suicides. I think that's why the research showing the prevention of suicides is stronger and better developed."
SB 126 has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for discussion.