After two deadly mass shootings killing 31 people in Ohio and Texas this month, many lawmakers are calling for legislation to prevent more deaths by guns. In Ohio, where a gunman killed nine, politicians are calling for the passing of so-called “Red Flag” laws.

Red Flag laws allow close family members or law enforcement officers to obtain a specialized court order that gives them the ability to take a person’s guns away. The person must be deemed a possible danger to themselves or to others. The requests from relatives often come after a person has expressed suicidal thoughts or a willingness to harm others.

As of 2019, 17 states have enacted Red Flag laws. Before the 2018 Parkland high school shooting in Florida, only five states had passed such laws. Early forms of the law required the public to report suspicious people to prosecutors or the police. Other forms of the law, like one in California, allow family members to bring their concerns to courts directly. 

New York has one of the newest forms. The state law makes it possible for the public, family or teachers to petition to the court. New York already had laws allowing mental health professionals to make reports to prohibit these individuals from buying guns. 

In 1999, Connecticut became the first state to pass a Red Flag law. More states followed after the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings where a gunman killed 32 students and faculty members.

Democrats in Congress have proposed similar bills, but each time they were blocked by the Republican Senate. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), said that he will push the bill again, because it does not restrict gun rights on a federal level but instead leaves it up to the states. 

The National Rifle Association refuses to support Red Flag laws arguing that they take guns away from people who have not committed a crime. Conservatives also say that these laws are unconstitutional because they infringe on the Second Amendment. 

The question is how effective these laws are? Officials say it is not easy to judge their effectiveness because no one can say exactly how many shootings they prevent. Despite Connecticut’s law, the 2012 Newtown elementary school shooting left 26 dead. People had known the shooter had the potential to be dangerous but failed to report him.

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The laws have been studied for their effectiveness to prevent suicide. Duke University carried out a study that showed a decrease in gun-related suicides in Connecticut after the passage of a Red Flag law.