RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Virginia’s red flag law has been used hundreds of times since taking effect nearly two years ago but there appear to be disparities in how often it’s being implemented locally.
Meanwhile, Congress is considering a bipartisan proposal to reduce gun violence. According to a press release from U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, the package would provide resources to states to create and administer laws like Virginia’s.
The state law, which passed despite significant pushback from gun rights advocates, creates a civil process to take guns from those who pose an immediate danger to themselves or others. At least 18 other states and Washington D.C. already have similar laws on the books.
The latest data from Virginia State Police shows, that between July 2020 and May 2022, guns were seized temporarily following 258 emergency orders, which can last up to 14 days.
In that same timeframe, VSP Spokesperson Corinne Geller said 151 were removed under final orders for at least one 180-day period with potentially unlimited extensions. She said the longer-term removal is approved if a judge finds “clear and convincing evidence” that the person “poses a substantial risk of personal injury to himself or other individuals” in the near future.
A more detailed breakdown provided by Lori Haas, advocacy manager for the Center for Gun Violence Solutions at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, shows some localities are using the new tool much more than others.
Haas, whose daughter was shot and injured during the 2007 Virginia Tech Massacre, believes this disparity could be a product of a lack of resources and community awareness.
“If the federal law passes, our local law enforcement agencies will have more funding and more resources,” Haas said. “Many jurisdictions have been using it but not enough jurisdictions know about it. The general public doesn’t know enough about it and our law enforcement need the tools.”
The database, which details 384 orders through April 2022, shows more than 50 localities have used the red flag law at least once. However, just five localities accounted for more than half of emergency and final orders throughout the state.
- Fairfax County: 77 orders
- Virginia Beach: 38 orders
- Hampton: 36 orders
- Prince William: 32 orders
- Hanover: 25 orders
Meanwhile, some major cities like Richmond haven’t issued any substantial risk protection orders, according to the database. It’s not clear if anyone has tried to initiate the process there.
When asked why the Fairfax County Police Department appears to be using the law more often than other places, Amanda Paris, a domestic abuse detective, said they’ve done an extensive public awareness campaign and educated officers on the process. Paris thinks the law has already saved lives as a result.
“They are being used in mental health cases as well as our domestic violence cases and they are used to essentially get that person the treatment and the help that they need, to temporarily take their guns and make that community safer,” Paris said. “We’re not in the business of permanently taking people’s guns.”
The data hasn’t won over many gun rights advocates, including Philip Van Cleave with the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
Van Cleave fears Congress will try to “bribe” states to adopt red flag laws by stripping other funding sources, rather than offering additional dollars.
“We’re just totally opposed to this because the people that have brought this forward are just trying to make it easier to confiscate guns,” Van Cleave said.
The push in Congress to incentivize the expansion of red flag laws comes after a bill to repeal Virginia’s failed during the 2022 General Assembly session. Many Republicans supported it, arguing that it’s unconstitutional and infringes on Second Amendment rights, but the roll back was blocked by Senate Democrats.
Van Cleave said VCDL has yet to file a lawsuit to strike down the state law. He said they are waiting for a case that can be used as the basis for a legal challenge to be brought to their attention.