Lake County and all of Florida are safer today, thanks to a new state law that gives law enforcement a valuable tool to prevent gun violence by helping keep firearms out of the hands of individuals who demonstrate an obvious threat to themselves or others.
Florida joined a handful of states earlier this year when it passed the Risk Protection Order Act (RPO), or red flag law, spurred to much-needed action in response to the tragedy in Parkland. This important law, passed with bipartisan support in the state Legislature, allows law enforcement to remove firearms and ammunition from violent or mentally ill individuals while affording citizens their due process.
The process for obtaining an RPO is straightforward and puts the decision to remove guns in the hands of a judge. First, law enforcement files a petition listing the statement, actions or facts that give rise to a reasonable fear of significant dangerous acts by a respondent.
Then, the petition is heard by a judge within 24 hours to determine if there is reasonable cause to believe the respondent poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to himself or others in the near future by having any firearm or ammunition. If granted, the respondent is served with the temporary order, and he or she must immediately surrender their firearms, ammunition and concealed weapons license pending a final hearing.
The judge will set the final hearing within 14 days, at which time law enforcement must present clear and convincing evidence that the person poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to themselves or others by having in their custody or control any firearm or ammunition, or by purchasing, possessing or receiving a firearm or ammunition. If granted, the final RPO is valid for one year. In order to extend the order, law enforcement would once again have to present evidence to the court that the person is still a threat to themselves or others.
This law is intended solely to remove firearms from individuals who pose an obvious threat to themselves and others – not from law-abiding citizens. It balances public safety goals with the important rights afforded to citizens by the Second Amendment of the Constitution, as well as the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. In fact, even gun rights organizations have voiced their support for these red flag laws.
While this law is not the perfect solution to ending gun violence, it’s a good step in the right direction and we are all safer because of it.
Chris McKinstry is chief of police in Lady Lake.