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Legislators Propose Changes To Connecticut 'Red Flag' Law

Ryan Lindsay
Connecticut Public Radio
An array of handguns at Central Connecticut Arms in Portland, Connecticut.

Connecticut’s red flag law could see significant changes through a new bill that would update a statute that’s been on the books since 1999. 

Red flag law” is sometimes used to describe laws that issue risk warrants, or extreme risk protection orders. The civil orders temporarily remove firearms and ammunition from people who are considered an “imminent risk” to themselves or others but who otherwise are allowed to legally buy and possess guns.

There are three main changes in H.B. 5448: An Act Concerning Risk Protection Order or Warrant: The first would prevent anyone who’s had guns removed under a risk warrant from buying new ones while the order is active.

The second would allow family or household members and medical professionals to apply for a risk warrant, rather than just police. And the third would allow people subject to a warrant to petition for removal of the order 180 days after its initial activation, something that’s modeled after Indiana’s law. Warrants currently expire after a year.

“If a risk warrant [is] issued against you, that is not a criminal offense. It’s also not a mental health diagnosis,” said Rep. Steve Stafstrom, who introduced the bill during a news conference Wednesday. “It’s simply a finding of the judge that right now, there’s something that’s going on in your life that you pose enough of an imminent harm to yourself or others that mixing that combination with firearms is just not a good idea.”

Stafstrom cited a 2017 Duke University study that found that for every 10 to 20 warrants issued between 2009 and 2013, at least one life was saved in Connecticut, predominantly through preventing suicides.

“As effective as our law has been, it’s not as robust as we’ve seen in best practices in other states,” Stafstrom said.

Suicides in Connecticut have gradually risen each year since 2013, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, particularly among men aged 50-59.

Early opponents of the bill include the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, the state’s largest Second Amendment rights group.

“The proposed bill states that a complainant may go directly to a judge, bypassing the unbiased and trained input of law enforcement,” said CCDL president Holly Sullivan in a statement. “This bill contains no stipulated penalties for false reporting.”

While the new bill would expand who can apply for the warrant, the requests still have to meet the criteria for “imminent risk” and be signed off on by the courts. Stafstrom said anyone who applies for a warrant with false information is subject to perjury charges.

In 1999, the state became the first in the country to pass this type of law after a recently fired lottery employee killed four other employees and then took his own life in 1998.

In light of an increase in workplaceand mass shootings around the country, and a recent statewide increase in suicides, lawmakers say the update can help save lives. Between 1999 and 2019, 2,078 risk warrants were filed in Connecticut. Last year, 250 risk warrants were applied for, compared to 268 in 2018 and 178 in 2017.

A public hearing for H.B. 5448 is slated for Wednesday, March 11.

This story has been updated with the most recently available risk warrant numbers provided by the Connecticut Judicial Branch External Affairs Dvision.

Ryan Lindsay has been asking questions since she figured how to say her first few words. She eventually figured out that journalism is the profession where you can and should always ask questions.

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