Editorials

Florida court gets it right: ‘Yes, take their guns before something really bad happens’ | Editorial

An appeal court upheld Florida law that allows law-enforcement officers to take weapons temporarily from people displaying suspicious behavior.
An appeal court upheld Florida law that allows law-enforcement officers to take weapons temporarily from people displaying suspicious behavior. Getty Images

In a world of active-shooter drills for 6-year-olds, of going to the mall — or to school, or the movies or . . . — with a twinge of fear, of declaring that “somebody ought to do something,” why would anyone want a deadly weapon in the hands of people whose troubling behavior might lead them to hurt themselves or others?

Even many staunch defenders of the Second Amendment agree that firearms and the potentially mentally ill, should not mix.

That’s why we applaud Florida’s First District Court of Appeal, which on Wednesday rejected a constitutional challenge to the state’s “red flag” law, which was enacted after the 2018 mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County.

Red flag laws, also called extreme risk laws, let law enforcement officers act on reports of someone displaying warning-sign behavior and take away their guns with an extreme risk protection order. The laws can stop mass shootings, homicides and suicides from occurring, and they have. They save lives.

And no, adrenaline-pumped cops don’t kick the door down, barge in and confiscate weapons from troubled people. Rather, they first petition the court to temporarily remove guns from dangerous situations.

And that scenario is what prompted the challenge to law.

The Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office believed that one of its deputies, Jefferson Eugene Davis, posed a threat after he suspected that his girlfriend was cheating on him. The sheriff’s office filed a “risk protection owner” seeking the removal of Davis’ firearms.

A circuit judge approved the request, but Davis appealed, challenging the constitutionality of the red-flag law, saying that he had a right to fully argue his case in court.

But the court unanimously upheld the spirit of the state’s red flag law.

“The decision strongly confirms that red flag laws serve a vital public safety purpose and are fully consistent with constitutional protections, including due process,” said Eric Tirschwell, managing director for Everytown Law, the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety on Thursday. “Extreme risk legislation is one of the best legal tools we have to prevent gun violence, and this law has already saved lives in Florida.”

Across the state, about 2,000 guns have been confiscated from owners showing concerning behavior.

Nikolas Cruz exhibited such warning signs, and now stands accused of storming into Stoneman Douglas High School and killing 17 students and teachers and injuring 17 more on Valentine’s Day 2018.

After the shooting, angry students from the school who had lived through the horrific massacre and their ardent supporters from across the state, marched on Tallahassee, forcing reluctant Florida lawmakers to take a stand. Legislators passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act, which has many preventive provisions, including a red flag law.

Since Parkland, at least 12 states and the District of Columbia have passed red flag laws. That’s good news in a country where gun laws are at a minimum. In the wake of high-profile shootings in Ohio and Texas, more state lawmakers are considering such laws, as are some members of Congress.

The court was right to affirm: People who are extremely emotionally disturbed, even for a brief time, should not be allowed possess guns. And law enforcement has the right to intervene.

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