It’s been a consistent theme echoed by law enforcement: “See something, say something.” But in Florida, if a family member sees something, they’re actually hamstrung from doing anything because of last minute changes to the so-called “Red Flag” legislation prior to it becoming law.
Now, as the number of gun-related suicides and mass killings continue to rise, Senator Lori Berman (D-Delray Beach) and Representative Richard Stark (D-Weston) are seeking to loosen those ties that bind family members from interceding, filing for the third year in a row a bill to expand Florida’s red flag laws. The legislation, readied for the 2020 session, is SB 114, with the House Bill pending a bill number.
“These senseless massacres could have an added piece of potential prevention if we simply allow those closest to those with mental illness an opportunity to come forward,” said Senator Berman. “We are taught, if we see something, say something, yet that very principle is meaningless if the information shared lacks the ability to be enforced.”
Representative Stark agreed. “Reducing gun violence requires a multi-prong approach,” he said. “One area most legislators agree on is preventing people with mental health issues from carrying out the harming of themselves or others. Family members are best at recognizing warning signs and too often need to work directly with the courts. This is a bi-partisan bill that will greatly help reduce preventable gun violence.”
Current law allows only law enforcement officers to petition a court for the removal of firearms. Expanding the petitioner categories to include mother, father, grandparent, step-parent, sibling, spouse or legal guardian would enable those who are closest to these troubled individuals to take action. This specific group of family members being able to file for firearm removal are on the front lines, and could help stop preventable tragedies by recognizing the lethal combination of mental illness and easy access to guns.
The most recent barrage of tragedies in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio over the weekend underscore why red flag laws can be so critical. Red flag laws now exist in 17 states and Washington, D.C.. High profile elected officials including U.S. Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham, a Republican, and our own Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, have been supportive of this legislation. Senator Rubio filed legislation in 2018 and 2019 in the U.S. Senate. Over the weekend, former Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich also shared his support for this legislation and his attempts to get these laws passed while in office.
“As I enter my 10th year of legislative service, I have proposed bills in all but one of those years to address some aspect of meaningful, responsible and sensible gun control,” said Senator Berman. “Unfortunately, until the Republicans summon the courage to overthrow the hold of the National Rifle Association, and embrace some of these measures, the growing threat of gun violence will continue to be an all-too-familiar part of Floridians’ daily lives.”