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Reality Check: Do 'Red Flag' Gun Laws Work?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A growing number of mass shootings is prompting states to pass "red flag" laws, including Minnesota.

It is a way to take guns away from dangerous people who may be an "extreme risk." But how do we know red flag laws work?

READ MORE: 'It Could Save Lives': Red Flag Gun Bill Passes In Minn. House Committee

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia now have the power to seize guns from people before they shoot themselves or someone else. They include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

In a new Minnesota red flag proposal, a judge could order guns confiscated from a person thought to be dangerous. Here are some of the criteria in the proposed bill that a judge could use to determine if a person is dangerous:

  • A history of threats or acts of violence by the respondent directed toward the respondent's self or another person.
  • The history of use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force by the respondent against another person.
  • A violation of any court order.
  • A prior arrest for a felony offense.
  • A conviction or prior arrest for a violent misdemeanor offense, for a stalking offense or for domestic assault.
  • A conviction for an offense of cruelty to animals.
  • The unlawful and reckless use, display, or brandishing of a firearm.
  • Evidence of controlled substances or alcohol abuse factored against countervailing evidence of recovery from abuse of controlled substances or alcohol.

The firearms could be seized and kept for "not less than six months nor more than two years."

Gun Rights Rally
(credit: CBS)

Extreme protection laws are controversial. But now, early studies are are showing unexpected results. It turns out that red flag laws may prevent more suicides than homicides. Indiana saw a 7.5-percent decrease in firearm suicides over 10 years. And since 2007, Connecticut had a 13.7-percent drop.

In Minnesota, that would be significant. In 2017, 465 people were killed by firearms. Of those deaths, 365 were suicide – 78 percent of all the gun deaths in Minnesota. That's according to a December 2018 Department of Health report called "Suicide in Minnesota, 1999-2017":

Suicides accounted for 78 percent of all firearm deaths in Minnesota (365 out of 465) in 2017 and varied by gender. Suicides accounted for 81 percent of male firearm deaths (338 out of 417) and 56 percent of female firearm deaths (27 out of 48). The firearm suicide rates increased 11 percent from 2016 to 2017. The rate for White males increased from 11.3 per 100,000 to 12.7 per 100,000. Firearm was the leading mechanism of suicide deaths. In 2017, nearly half of all suicides were by firearm (47 percent), followed by suffocation (30 percent). Firearm was the leading mechanism for male suicides (54 percent) and the third leading mechanism for females (17 percent). Poisoning and suffocation were the leading mechanism for female suicides (37 percent and 36 percent, respectively).

A 10-percent drop in suicides could save 36 people from killing themselves.

If you, or someone you know, struggles with thoughts of suicide, you are not alone. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24-7. Just call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Here are some of the sources we used for this Reality Check:

Extreme Protection Bill

Suicide Data Brief

Commissioner's Statement on 2017 Suicide Data

Are More Minnesotans Dying From Guns Than Opioids Or Car Crashes?

Stats of the State of Minnesota - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Extreme Risk Protection Orders | Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence

Effects of Risk-Based Firearm Seizure Laws in Connecticut and Indiana on Suicide Rates, 1981-2015

Gun Studies: Permit Laws Reduce Murders; Red Flag Laws Cut Suicides

How Red Flag Laws Work


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