Courts are issuing an unprecedented number of orders to seize firearms from people they deem to be mentally ill or threats to others, following a rash of state-level legislation aimed at curbing mass shootings across the country.
Even as conservatives sound the alarm about potential Second Amendment violations, supporters — sometimes across party lines — say these “red flag” laws are among the most promising tools to reduce the nearly 40,000 suicides and homicides by firearm each year in the country.
“I think we’re seeing a building consensus in blue states and red states that this is a good way to balance public safety against people’s Second Amendment rights,” Jaron Lindbaum, a representative of the activist grop Washington Ceasefire, told Fox News.
Nine states have passed laws over the past year allowing police or household members to seek court orders requiring people deemed threatening to temporarily surrender their guns, bringing the total to 14. Several more are likely to follow in the months ahead.
More than 1,700 orders allowing guns to be seized for weeks, months or up to a year were issued in 2018 by the courts after they determined the individuals were a threat to themselves or others. The actual number is probably much higher since the data was incomplete and didn’t include California, where newly-installed Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has moved swiftly to curtail gun rights.
In his first few weeks in office, Newsom has quickly moved to reduce the number of Californians with firearms and given activists hope that a number of measures vetoed by former Gov. Jerry Brown will once again see the light of day.
“We have all the ingredients we need to make meaningful change,” state Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel said Monday at a press conference in Sacramento. “We have expanded Democratic majority in both houses. We have a bright and ambitious new governor with a real track record on this issue who wants to make this a priority.”
In his state budget plan, which was released just days after he took office in January, Newsom proposed an additional $5.6 million in funding – about 50 percent more than Brown allocated in his last budget – to seize firearms from the thousands of people who are ineligible to be gun owners because of past criminal convictions or mental illness. The gun seizure program has been underfunded in the past, with the result being that around 10,000 people in the state were able to purchase firearms, but later were convicted of a felony or found to have a serious mental illness.
Newsom also wants state lawmakers to expand a California Department of Justice unit tasked with enforcing gun sale laws and, in his proposed budget, has asked for more funding for the Firearms Violence Research Center at the University of California, Davis.
In his inauguration speech, Newsom promised to be tough on “a gun lobby willing to sacrifice the lives of our children to line their pockets.”
Since the beginning of the year, California state legislators have already introduced measures to put a 10-year firearm prohibition on anyone convicted of two drug or alcohol crimes in a three-year period, requiring gun owners to lock up their weapons when they are not home, and a tax on gun sales that would help fund violence prevention programs.
A bill that would permit more people to seek a gun violence restraining order against someone they believe poses a danger to themselves or others has also been reintroduced. It was previously vetoed by Brown.
The gun-seizure laws gained momentum nationally after it was learned that Nikolas Cruz, the young man accused in the 2018 Valentine’s Day attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., was widely known to be mentally troubled yet had access to weapons, including the assault-style rifle used to kill 17 students and staff members.
“Parkland would never have happened if Florida had a red flag law,” Linda Beigel Schulman said during a recent news conference with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is expected to sign his state’s new law any day. Her son, Scott Beigel, was a teacher and coach killed during the Parkland attack.
Florida passed a red flag law as part of a gun-control package in the wake of the shooting. Aside from New York, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont also have adopted variations since then. California, Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon and Washington already had similar laws.
Several states are debating them this year, including New Mexico, where two students were killed in a school shooting in December 2017.
The laws are being invoked frequently in many of the states that have them.
Authorities in Maryland granted more than 300 petitions to temporarily disarm individuals in the three months after the state’s law went into effect Oct. 1. Montgomery County Sheriff Darren Popkin said the cases included four “significant” threats of school shootings, and that a majority of the people who were subjects of the orders were suffering from mental health crises.
“These orders are not only being issued appropriately, they are saving lives,” Popkin told lawmakers last month.
In Vermont, a prosecutor obtained an order to strip gun rights from a teenager released from jail after being accused of plotting a school shooting.
Florida courts granted more than 1,000 orders in the first nine months of its new law. Broward County, which includes Parkland, has been at the forefront, accounting for roughly 15 percent of cases statewide.
Among the first people subjected to the law was Cruz’s younger brother, who authorities said was showing signs of violence after allegedly trespassing at the high school after the shooting. In another case, Florida authorities took dozens of firearms from a bailiff accused of threatening other courthouse employees.
Connecticut has the nation’s longest-standing red flag law, which went into effect in 1999 after a mass shooting at the state lottery office. Authorities there say new awareness of the law contributed to a spike in 2018 in warrants issued to take away weapons — 268, the highest total on record, according to court data.
The rise reflects the more aggressive posture police have adopted since the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and other attacks.
One study found that the Connecticut law reduced gun suicides by more than 10 percent in recent years and that a similar law in Indiana led to a 7.5 percent drop.
“It really gives us a unique opportunity as prosecutors to come in before the violence has occurred. Often we are tackling it on the other side,” said Kimberly Wyatt, a prosecutor in King County, Washington, who has been seeking one or two such orders per week in and around Seattle.
She said authorities use the best available research and their judgment, looking at whether a person has talked about suicide, threatened others, stalked someone or shown signs of a mental health crisis.
Gun-rights advocates argue that the laws can be used unfairly based on unproven accusations.
“In today’s society, the police are going to err on the side of caution. The threshold for issuing these types of warrants has been lowered,” lamented Scott Wilson Sr., president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League.
Debates in state legislatures often turn on how much due process gun owners should receive and who can petition for the orders. In some states, only police can file the petitions. Other states allow members of the person’s household, relatives, school officials, employers and health care providers to do so.
Most states allow for temporary orders that are issued for days or weeks. Judges then hold hearings to decide whether to extend them for up to one year.
During the debate in New Mexico, Army veteran Rico Giron testified that people could see their guns seized over grudges between family members or neighbors.
“It’s incredibly dangerous because it opens the door for vindictiveness and revenge,” Giron said.
The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Daymon Ely, said he wants parents to have another option if they have a child suffering from mental illness.
“The state has an obligation to say, ‘Yes, there is something we can do for you,'” Ely said.
Fox News’ Dan Springer, Andrew O’Reilly, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Presidents Day protests decry Trump’s emergency declaration
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Activists in Washington, Chicago and dozens of other U.S. cities protested on Monday’s Presidents Day holiday against President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to secure funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
A woman holds a sign during a demonstration against U.S. President Donald Trump on President’s Day near the White House in Washington, U.S., February 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Calling Trump’s declaration an abuse of power and usurpation of Congress, organizers with the nonprofit advocacy group MoveOn.org and other participants said it was important to let the outrage over the move be heard.
“We disagree with the state of emergency declared by the president and stand with our immigrant colleagues and friends,” said Darcy Regan, executive director of Indivisible Chicago, which co-hosted the protest there.
Trump invoked the emergency powers on Friday after Congress declined to fulfill his request for $5.7 billion to help build the wall that was his signature 2016 campaign promise. His move aims to let him spend money appropriated by Congress for other purposes.
The Republican president says a wall is needed to curb illegal immigrants and illicit drugs coming across the border. Democrats and opponents of the wall say it is unnecessary.
The protests in Chicago and Washington each drew a few hundred people on Monday afternoon.
Protesters gathered in Chicago’s Federal Plaza carried signs that read “Dump Trump” and “Fake Emergency” and chanted “No wall, no fear, immigrants are welcome here.”
Cheryl Krugel-Lee, a 32-year-old student, said she brought her 4-year-old daughter to the protest in freezing weather to set an example for her.
“This was a power grab by the Trump administration, and it’s immoral and illegal,” Krugel-Lee said.
Organizers said 250 events were planned, including in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Democrats have vowed to challenge the national emergency declaration as a violation of the U.S. Constitution. California state Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in television interviews that his state and others would sue the Trump administration on Monday.
Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Dan Grebler
Cory Booker calls warnings about Green New Deal price tag a ‘lie’
“This is the lie that’s going on right now,” Booker told Fox News in Nashua, N.H., as he campaigned in the first-in-the-nation primary state.
The New Jersey senator was asked about the costs of the Green New Deal, which is supported by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives and aims to implement a range of big-government programs while pursuing a level of “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” — essentially, a total economic transformation toward clean energy that, among other points, includes building upgrades across the country.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported it cost nearly $2,000 per apartment for the New York City Housing Authority to switch to LED lighting, which lasts longer and consumes less energy than incandescent bulbs. Asked about that report, Booker said it’s possible to “revive your economy, and create a bold green future,” citing his experience as mayor of Newark, N.J.
“We environmentally retrofitted our buildings. Saves taxpayers money, created jobs for our community and lowered our carbon footprint,” Booker said.
He added, “This lie that’s being put out – that somehow being green and responsible with the environment means you have to hurt the economy – a lie.”
The Green New Deal is a sweeping proposal designed to tackle income inequality and climate change at the same time. It’s modeled after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal package of public works programs and projects created to help the economy during the Great Depression — but in many ways goes much further.
The rollout itself was muddled by the release of Ocasio-Cortez documents that, among other things, promised economic security even for those “unwilling” to work.
The plan itself aims to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing and agriculture and dramatically expand energy sources to meet 100 percent of power demand through renewable sources. The proposal also calls for a job-guarantee program and universal health care, among other things.
Republican critics have vehemently pushed back against the proposal, pointing in part to the price tag – estimated to be about $7 trillion. Republicans have also decried the job guarantee idea, calling it a “deeply flawed policy” that would be detrimental to small businesses.
Fox News’ Kaitlyn Schallhorn contributed to this report.
N.C. congressional contest marred by voter fraud scheme: official
RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) – An investigation into a disputed 2018 congressional election in North Carolina has uncovered a “coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme” to influence the vote’s outcome, a state election board official said on Monday.
FILE PHOTO: Mark Harris, Republican candidate from North Carolina’s 9th Congressional district speaks as U.S. President Donald Trump looks on during a campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina U.S., October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
The scheme involved collecting absentee ballots in contravention of state laws, and, in some cases, filling out those ballots in favor of Republicans.
Investigators found evidence that a political operative working for Republican candidate Mark Harris collected absentee ballots from voters in the state’s 9th congressional district, the executive director of the state’s election board, Kim Strach, said at the start of a hearing that could lead to a new vote.
The scheme affected 1,019 ballot requests in Bladen and Robeson counties during the 2018 election, Strach said.
Harris declared victory in November over Democratic rival Dan McCready after early vote tallies showed him with a 905-vote lead, out of 282,717 ballots cast.
But the U.S. House of Representatives seat has remained vacant as state officials have refused to certify Harris’ apparent victory after voters said the Harris campaign team had collected their incomplete absentee ballots.
Republican political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless conducted an absentee ballot operation from April 2017 up to the 2018 elections while working for Red Dome Consulting, a firm hired by the Harris campaign, Strach said.
Lisa Britt, who said she worked for Dowless, testified that she collected unsealed ballots and filled them out in favor of Republicans at Dowless’ home or office.
Britt said Dowless tried to prevent her from testifying at Monday’s hearing by asking her to invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Dowless paid workers $150 for every 50 absentee ballot requests they collected and another $125 for every 50 ballots collected, Strach said.
Investigators found Dowless tried to avoid detection by instructing those who worked for him to deliver ballots to the post office in small batches and to ensure the same color ink was used for forged witness signatures, Strach said.
State officials have named Dowless as a person of interest in their election fraud probe after voters in Bladen County said people working with Dowless came to their homes and collected ballots, which would violate state law.
Dowless and Harris both attended Monday’s hearing in Raleigh. Dowless’ lawyer, Cynthia Adams Singletary, has denied her client violated state or federal campaign laws, and Harris has said he was unaware of any wrongdoing.
Under state law, the five-member elections board could order a new vote if it finds sufficient evidence that fraud affected the outcome of the election. If it does not, it could certify Harris as the district’s congressional representative.
“We hope to have Dr. Harris certified so he can take his seat in the congressional district,” said David Freedman, a lawyer representing Harris.
Representatives for McCready did not respond to a request for comment.
If the Democrats pick up the seat, they would widen their 235-197 majority in the House after taking control of the chamber from President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans in the Nov. 6 election.
Reporting by Marti Maguire; Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Tom Brown and Bernadette Baum
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