Law Enforcement Weighs 'Red Flag' Law, 6 Weeks In

Tyler Waldman, WBAL NewsRadio 1090 on November 15, 2018
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After an attempt to serve a warrant under the law turned deadly, law enforcement officials weighed in this week on how Maryland's "red flag" law is working.

Last week, Anne Arundel County police went to serve an extreme risk protective order on 61-year-old Gary Willis. The order allowed them to seize his firearms. He answered the door while holding a gun, and subsequently struggled over it with an officer. It went off, not striking anybody, but a second officer subsequently fired his service weapon, striking and killing the Ferndale man.

Since the law went into effect Oct. 1, 150 orders have been served. The law requires someone with a close relationship--like a family member or significant other--or a law enforcement officer, doctor or psychiatrist to testify under penalty of perjury and convince a judge that someone presents an urgent enough risk to themselves or others to necessitate seizing their firearms.

"Particularly, family members see a lot of these signs that are going on in a person's life, and if they can get these weapons out of a person's hands and then get them the help that hopefully will get to the root of the problem, I think it can throw in some protections down the road," Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger told Brett Hollander on Wednesday.

Though he said he's open to hearing feedback from residents, he said he feels the perjury threat and judicial oversight create sufficient protections for gun owners. While the subject has no representation to challenge an interim order, they may go to court with a lawyer to challenge a temporary or permanent protective order, the Democrat Shellenberger said.

Maryland is now one of 13 states with some version of the law. While it's unknowable exactly how many violent crimes the new law prevented, Shellenberger said it's not necessarily unknowable how successful it's been.

"Well, I think the metric you have to look at is how many guns are taken away from individuals, and how many people have we gotten to help... [and] how many people we believe we've been able to protect from themselves and from others," Shellenberger said.

Up the road, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler said his deputies have served two dozen such orders. He said that while the law is "a step in the right direction," he's concerned that, even though the claims are made under penalty of perjury, some may use the orders in bad faith.

"There's a lot of good in there, but certainly we see in a lot of marital and relationship situations where parties aren't 100 percent in reporting things to police," Gahler told Bryan Nehman on Tuesday.

He said he feels the bill doesn't sufficiently address threats, rather merely the tools to carry out those threats.

"As we've seen, firearms are out there, can be bought on the streets easily," Gahler said. "If someone wants to do harm, they're going to do harm, and it's one of our big issues with this extreme risk protective order, it doesn't necessarily let us address the person itself, the threat itself."

He said he hopes to work with lawmakers when the next General Assembly session begins in January. Already, lawmakers have signaled an intent to revise the restrictions on gun purchases for people with documented mental health concerns, after reports Jacksonville shooter David Katz purchased his weapons legally in Maryland.



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