While waiting for the Celtics game to begin Monday night, Gov. Ned Lamont reviewed briefing material about Connecticut’s groundbreaking red flag law, the topic of a news conference Tuesday. He also flipped the channel to Tucker Carlson on Fox, whose subject happened to be the same as Lamont’s briefing memo.
In real time, Lamont experienced the disconnect between how the gun seizure law works in Connecticut — where gun owners accused of being unfit are guaranteed due process — and how Carlson falsely described to a national audience that such laws were declared unconstitutional last year by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“So, red flag laws are unconstitutional, period,” Carlson said. “We don’t need to guess about that. And yet the Biden administration is pushing them anyway. Why? Because they don’t care.”
Lamont called Tucker’s commentary infuriating.
On Tuesday, the governor stood outside a police station in suburban Windsor to promote a Connecticut law passed in 1999 and revised in 2012. It allows police to get a risk warrant, a court order allowing the seizure of firearms from individuals deemed an imminent risk to themselves or others.
The impetus for the law was a Connecticut Lottery employee’s murder of four co-workers in 1998 and the revelation that police were unable to act on concerns about the man’s mental state because he had not broken any laws.
“Connecticut’s learned from these tragedies,” Lamont said. “We learned the hard way, but at least we learn. And we made a difference.”
The case cited by Carlson involved the seizure of a gun from a man’s home in Cranston, R.I., without a warrant during a wellness check request by the man’s wife, who reported he was suicidal. The court ruled 9-0 that the police had acted improperly, not that red flag laws were unconstitutional.
Carlson asserted the laws save no one, while depriving gun owners of their firearms. Lamont says the data shows otherwise.
A study by researchers at Yale, Duke and the University of Connecticut examined 762 gun removals between 1999 and 2013 and concluded that one suicide was averted for every 10 to 20 gun seizures, or between 38 and 76 in four years examined.
Twenty-one of the 762 gun-removal cases ultimately ended with the person committing suicide after they were again eligible to purchase a gun, or after their guns were returned by authorities, they reported.
Lamont was joined Tuesday by Michael Lawlor, a professor and former co-chair of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee. He was a member of the House when the General Assembly voted to pass the red flag law, which was signed by a Republican governor, John G. Rowland.
“From the inception, Connecticut’s red flag law and risk warrants were designed to be a last resort,” Lawlor said. “In other words, when law enforcement had no other options to separate a clearly dangerous person from firearms, they now have this option.”
The bipartisan gun safety deal announced Sunday in Washington by a working group of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans would encourage states to enact laws similar to the ones on the books in Connecticut and at least 18 other states, providing financial resources.
The governor’s office planned the event before the deal was announced, but it likely attracted more attention coming the same week. Lamont, a Democrat seeking reelection, supports the Senate deal, whose architects include Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
Carlson’s guest Tuesday night was Eric Schmitt, the attorney general of Missouri, who joined the host in attacking the Republicans in the working group.
“These Senate Republicans need to back away from this dangerous dance with these gun-grabbing Democrats,” said Schmitt, who called red flag laws “nothing more than a green light for gun confiscation.”
Lamont said Schmitt was on while he was reading about how Connecticut contrasted with Missouri.
“I was just struck that when we had our red flag laws go in, our number of suicides, gun-related suicides went down by a third in the state of Connecticut,” Lamont said. “And when they ended those same laws in Missouri, they went up dramatically.”
Lamont referred to the wrong gun law. A comparison made by Preventive Health showed that gun suicides fell by 15.4% in Connecticut after a gun permit law was passed, not a red flag law, and that suicides increased by 16.1% after Missouri repealed a similar law. A recent Politico article referenced other research attributing about a one-third drop in gun deaths to Connecticut’s laws requiring background checks and safety training.
The red flag law was used in Connecticut about 30 to 40 times a year in its earlier years, then jumped to about 100 after a mass shooting at Virginia Tech and 200 after the Sandy Hook shooting, Lawlor said. As originally written, weapons could be seized for no more than a year.
Last year, the law was revised to allow the weapons to be held in perpetuity if deemed necessary, and to permit police to seize weapons other than firearms and bar the subject of a risk warrant from purchasing new firearms while the warrant was in effect. While the original passage was bipartisan, the revision was not.
The 2021 legislation would allow medical professionals, relatives and intimate partners — not only law enforcement officials — to apply for a risk warrant, but the police would then investigate.
“This past week, I had a phone call from a social worker who said one of his clients wanted to kill himself. Now, he didn’t have a firearm, but he knew how to get one. He was going to purchase a firearm,” Jeremy Stein of Connecticut Against Gun Violence said at the press conference.
Police in Connecticut are trained about the red flag law, but there still are instances where police say they cannot do anything when a family member or health care professional says a firearm owner is dangerous.
“Unfortunately, whoever answered the phone was not familiar with the law. And they were not familiar that this law had just been expanded and said they can’t help,” Stein said.
But the social worker persisted and sought a risk warrant that will block the client from getting a firearm, Stein said.
Correction: Story has been updated to reflect that Lawlor mistook Georgia Tech for Virginia Tech.