Texas lawmakers discuss ‘red flag’ law to keep guns away from those deemed likely to turn violent
June 26, 2018 | By Brianna Stone
Texas lawmakers met with legal and mental health experts, educators and students Monday to discuss creating “red flag” legislation to prevent gun violence.
Red flag laws would temporarily restrict access to firearms for people who show signs of being a danger to themselves or others, while taking into account their Second Amendment rights.
The importance of safe gun storage and the role mental health plays in gun violence dominated the six-hour meeting of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.
After the Santa Fe High School shooting that killed 10 people in May, Gov. Greg Abbott created a 44-page list of recommendations to improve school safety.
One of the points Abbott mentioned was to encourage the Legislature to study red flag laws. But on Monday, he told a Twitter user who was concerned that the laws would violate people’s rights that he doesn’t support the idea.
“It specifically requires full due process before anyone’s right can be compromised,” Abbott tweeted. “Moreover I don’t advocate red flag laws. Only that it is something the legislature can consider.”
During the testimony Monday, former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who as a state senator wrote Texas’ concealed carry bill in 1995, also said there must be due process and a legislative standard for judges to consider before removing firearms from someone’s possession.
He added that proper storage of guns is important but said he opposes punishing adults who don’t secure them.
“If you are an adult that fails to store your firearm in a manner that will keep a child from getting ahold of it and killing another child in a tragic accident, you’ve already suffered pretty substantially,” he said.
Guy Herman, a Travis County probate judge, testified that he owns guns and supports the Second Amendment, as well as gun storage regulations and red flag laws.
Herman said Texas needs a system in which people could report “red flags” to law enforcement officers, who could then refer the cases to courts.
When the discussion pivoted to mental health, Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, said officials need to be careful how they discuss the subject.
“If you have a mental illness, that does not automatically mean you are violent,” said Moody, the committee chairman. They are not one and the same, and we need to be very, very cautious.”
Greg Hench, public policy director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Texas, cautioned people against creating too strong a connection between mental illness and violence when considering red flag laws.
“It makes [people] not want to seek treatment,” he said. “It should not target toward people who have mental illness specifically.”
Hench said Texas needs an “extreme risk” red flag statute that would take guns from people who are at risk of harming themselves or others, but not simply people diagnosed with mentally illnesses.
“There is research to suggest that these policies save lives,” he said. “One life is saved for every 10 to 20 risk warrants issued.”
Colleen Horton of the University of Texas Hogg Foundation for Mental Health said a mental illness diagnosis shouldn’t be the only way to identify a potentially dangerous person. Many troubled people who shouldn’t have guns may not be officially diagnosed as mentally ill or even have a mental illness, she said.
A few students and educators, some from Santa Fe, also testified Monday.
“They should have locked up their guns or my brother would be living with us today,” said Santa Fe student Mercedes Stone, referring to the shooter’s parents. Dimitrios Pagourtzis, a teenage student at the school, is accused of carrying out the attack with a gun owned by his father.
Dr. Gretchen Brown, a Santa Fe ISD psychologist, said a red flag law could prevent future mass shootings.
“Red flag laws are designed to strike a balance between respecting the Second Amendment while also respecting public safety,” she said.
The Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Safety is scheduled to discuss red flag laws July 24.