Viewpoint: Gun event educates on how to apply new Red Flag Law to avert tragedies

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Karen Rubin, Columnist

The plea of Linda Beigel Schulman, whose son, Scott Beigel, a teacher and coach murdered in the Parkland school massacre, had barely faded, when a 16-year old, marking his birthday, shot up his high school in California, killing two, injuring perhaps for life three more, before shooting himself in the head, subsequently dying.

And on Saturday, in San Diego, a husband shot and killed his wife and three of their sons before killing himself.

So far, the number of mass shootings in 2019 have averaged more than one a day – 371 as of Nov. 17. The Gun Violence Archive, as of Nov. 18, totaled 34,483 gun deaths, including homicides (13,231), suicides (21,252) plus 26,062 injuries (gunviolencearchive.org). In 46 weeks, there have been 45 school shootings.

Since Columbine, more than 300,000 students have had to live with the trauma of gun violence in their schools (3 million children a year witness gun violence).

(As I write this, I have to amend the list multiple times as more massacres are being recorded, including the Walmart, Lawton, Oklahoma shooting.)

Schulman’s plea for vigilance at a special event organized by New Yorkers Against Gun Violence at the Landmark on Main in Port Washington, came as New York is implementing its newly passed Red Flag Law and her prayer was that other parents would not have to live forever with the pain of such a tragic loss.

On the panel, aimed at educating the public on the new law and how to use it, the presentation that most fascinated me was by Dr. Abid I. Khan, director of psychiatry at Brunswick Hospital, who dispelled the notion that mental illness is the singular factor in gun massacres, murders and suicides. Rather, it is the easy access to guns with massive firepower and lethality.

“Fewer than 5 percent of gun crimes are committed by mentally ill,” he said. “The common denominator is availability of guns.”

On the other hand, two-thirds of gun deaths (50 percent in New York) involve suicides.” Moreover, individuals who have access to gun and attempt suicide are 97% likely to succeed, but only 3 percent of individuals who use other means to attempt suicide succeed, with most getting support so they do not try again. “So access to guns is the reason individuals more likely to die by suicide.”

A suicidal teen who impetuously takes pills or slashes a wrist can often be saved and treated physically and mentally, but that instant of pulling a trigger is final.

It took 16 seconds for that 16-year old to commit his murder and mayhem.

Individuals may pass a background check when they first acquire a gun and appear a “responsible” gun owner, but something could happen in their lives that causes them to snap – a bad breakup, the death of someone close, being fired from a job, some tragedy.

“At this almost breaking point, showing signs of mental instability this is where red flag law can step in and avert a possible tragedy,” Schulman said.

Mental illness is only small percentage of people likely to commit murder or suicide – so it is necessary to look at behavior as an indicator of violence- that is what individual who files protection order needs to look for: a threat of violence, use of physical force, violation of order of protection, pending charge of conviction involving the use of a weapon, reckless brandishing of gun; prior violation of ERPO; recent or ongoing abuse of controlled substances or alcohol; evidence of recent acquisition of a gun or another deadly weapon, dangerous instrument or ammunition with other behavior indicating the individual is likely to harm self or others.

“There could be other behaviors that show likelihood of violence – it could be suicidal ideation, not merely being depressed or anxious.”

But in 51 percent of mass shootings, the perpetrator exhibited dangerous warning signs – this was the case in Parkland. It was also the case in the May 2014 Isla Vista, CA shooting, which prompted California to pass its Extreme Risk Law.

1,700 children a year are murdered in gun violence, 86 percent of them because of domestic violence.

“This is why the Red Flag Law is so important to all of us, every one of us,” said Schulman.

So what happens under this law? If, upon a petition from a family member, school official, or law enforcement official, a court finds the individual is likely to harm him- or herself or others, the judge may issue an initial temporary ERPO, and the individual will be required to surrender any guns to the proper authorities and will be prohibited from purchasing guns. After a second hearing, in which the petitioner has to provide evidence, the judge may extend the order for up to a year – at which point it will expire unless a petition is filed to renew the order.

Those subject to ERPOs will have an opportunity during the year-long ERPO period to petition the court and present evidence as to why the order should be lifted. If the order expires and is not renewed or if the order is lifted, guns surrendered will be returned to the individual and all records of the proceedings will be sealed. (See the NYS Court website, https://www.nycourts.gov/CourtHelp/Safety/ERPOabout.shtml for information and to download the forms.)

Another commonsense gun safety regulation that New York thankfully has passed requires safe storage of guns – a priority that NYAGV has lobbied for 25 years – requiring gun owners to lock up guns when there are children in the home.

Also adopted: extending the Background Check from 3 to up to 30 days; banning bump stocks, banning arming educators, requiring mental health records check for an out-of-state resident who applies for a state gun permit; and a gun buyback program.

NYAGV has worked tirelessly for decades to get common-sense gun safety laws adopted. Now they are working to make sure New Yorkers understand how they can use the laws to protect themselves and their families.

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