Stacey Mayer, from Moms Demand Action, stands beside Rep. Steven Stafstrom to support this session's Red Flag proposal. Kelan Lyons / CT Mirror
Stacey Mayer, from Moms Demand Action, stands beside Rep. Steven Stafstrom to support this session’s Red Flag proposal. Kelan Lyons / CT Mirror
Stacey Mayer, from Moms Demand Action, stands beside Rep. Steven Stafstrom to support this session’s Red Flag proposal. Kelan Lyons / CT Mirror

In an attempt to modernize Connecticut’s first-in-the-nation “Red Flag” law, lawmakers are proposing a bill that would broaden who can request that guns be removed from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.

“As effective as our law has been, it’s not as robust as we have seen in best practices in other states,” said Rep. Steven Stafstrom, a Bridgeport Democrat and co-chair of the Judiciary Committee. “These are critical changes in order to make this law work better for us and for the state of Connecticut.”

In 1999, Connecticut became the first state in the country to pass a “red flag law.” The statute allows certain officials to ask the court to remove firearms from those who could harm to themselves or others.  Other states have followed suit over the past two decades, as mass shootings have proliferated across the country. Ten states adopted red flag laws following after the Feb. 14, 2018 slaying that ended the lives of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

A 2017 Duke University study found that, between 2009 and 2013, Connecticut’s red flag law prevented at least one suicide for every 20 gun seizures.

“What we’ve done is look specifically at the other states that have passed risk warrant statutes in the past several years and look at the best practices for those and try to combine them into a bill that updates the existing law we have on the books,” said Stafstrom.

Almost 2,000 risk warrants were issued in Connecticut between when the law was enacted in 1999 and August 2019.

Stafstrom’s bill would make several updates to Connecticut’s law. First, it would expand the eligibility of those who could ask the court for a risk warrant. Currently, two police officers or a state’s attorney can seek a protective order. In Stafstrom’s proposal, one officer could make the request, as could a household or family member, or certain medical professionals like physicians or psychologists.

Another change would limit a person in crisis from obtaining a firearm. Stafstrom said the current law provides a mechanism for the court to remove guns that a person already owns.

“But what about for the person who says, ‘I’m going to go out and buy a gun and kill myself’?” Stafstrom asked. “If somebody is shown to be an imminent risk of harm to themselves or others, just because they don’t currently possess a gun doesn’t mean they won’t go out to try to acquire one and use it.”

The new proposal would also give judges more discretion in the length of each protective order. Stafstrom said under the current statute people don’t have a way of getting their guns back before the yearlong warrant expires. His measure would indefinitely remove a person’s guns, but allow individuals to petition the court to get for their firearms back after 180 days, and then every 180 days thereafter.

“This would basically provide more flexibility to the judge in terms of the length of the order and the application process where you could get your firearm back earlier or if the order could stay in place after the year,” said Stafstrom.

Members of several gun reform organizations also attended Wednesday morning’s news conference. Stacey Mayer, from the Connecticut chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said updating the state’s Red Flag law will allow the state to remain a leader on gun reform.

“They’re all common sense updates to a law that has been proven to work already,” Mayer said of the changes, “but with these changes, will be even more effective, and can help save even more lives.”

The bill will be up for a public hearing on Wednesday, March 11.

Kelan is a Report For America Corps Member who covers the intersection of mental health and criminal justice for CT Mirror. Before joining CT Mirror, Kelan was a staff writer for City Weekly, an alt weekly in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a courts reporter for The Bryan-College Station Eagle, in Texas. He is originally from Philadelphia.

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  1. No indictment, no due process. Connecticut is a member of a small band of ignorant, tyrannical states shoving the U.S. to the brink of catastrophe. Red flag laws were created to transfer powers from licensed psychiatrists to unqualified persons more obedient to democrats, e.g., local judges and crotchety old aunts. Due process requires reports from two psychiatrists, one from each side, legal representation, arraignment, indictment and trial by jury.

    I’ve often wondered how the police, teacher, classmate or aunt would know the rightful owners of which firearms. Seems law enforcement would risk serious lawsuits if they err on that point. And I’ve wondered about the issue of an accused having firearms stored at another address. What if they’re out of the city or even the state but easily accessible. This law is flawed in many ways and few will comply.

    Nobody wants criminals to have firearms but to be taken seriously, if the accused is a danger to himself (not against the law) or others, he should be legally arrested. In other words, take the man but leave the guns. The line of inheritance codified in state laws determines the legal custodian of any property. Politicians on both sides who support this notion will regret the day they ever heard of red flag laws.

  2. What about “Mandatory Life Sentence without Parole” for any Homicide committed with an “illegal Firearm”.

    C’mon legislators, stop worrying about getting the inner city vote. Every life lost in the inner city to a shooting by an illegal firearm is on your conscience. C’mon, do your job!!!

  3. Red flag laws are a violation of the Constitution. This article states it clearly, 1 of every 20 guns confiscated prevented a suicide. So 20 of every 20 guns confiscated were a violation of the 2nd Amendment and 19 of those were for nothing. Now they want to expand who can petition for this and allow for further delays in getting the guns back? This law needs to be repealed, not made worse.

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