‘Ahead of its time’: 2020 marks 15th anniversary of Indiana’s red flag law
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Jake Laird Law, or Indiana’s red flag law. The law, passed in May 2005, allows police departments to temporarily confiscate firearms from people who are deemed dangerous or mentally ill and pose an imminent risk to themselves or others, according to the Indiana State Police website.
Bloomington Police Department Capt. Ryan Pedigo said in an email that the department uses the law about two or three times a year. BPD usually gets tips from concerned friends or family members who know someone has access to firearms.
“I certainly believe that laws such as the Laird Law have decreased violent acts by removing firearms from dangerous persons,” Pedigo said in the email.
The law stipulates that police must prove a person is dangerous and in possession of a firearm in order to obtain a warrant to take the weapon away. Officers can prove this by describing their interactions with the individual who is allegedly dangerous or with another person who the officer deems as credible. The court must then decide whether there is enough evidence to grant the warrant.
It cannot be calculated how many times the law has stopped people from using firearms violently, Pedigo said. He compared it to a police car on the highway: People will slow down and abide by traffic laws, but it’s unknown how many infractions were prevented.
Connecticut was the first state to pass a red flag law in 1999. At least 17 states and Washington, D.C., have passed a red flag law as of 2019, and many are considering it. Many states passed such laws after the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, according to the Indiana State Police website.
Vice President Mike Pence said in 2019 that Indiana’s red flag law could be an example for other states and replicated across the country to prevent gun violence, according to Fox 59.
The law was passed in response to the 2004 death of Indianapolis police officer Timothy “Jake” Laird. He was killed after a man was able to retrieve his seized firearms after leaving emergency detention at St. Francis Hospital, according to the Indiana State Police website.
The man, Kenneth Anderson, went on a shooting rampage armed with a rifle and two handguns on August 18, 2004. He killed his mother in the shooting, and when police responded he shot five officers, killing Laird and injuring the other four.
“It was just an incredible tragedy not only in our city but in our state,” Rep. Susan W. Brooks, R-5thDistrict, said in an interview with the Indiana Daily Student.
Brooks spoke at Laird’s funeral and became friends with his family. Brooks said she’s working to make red flag laws federal legislation. She introduced the Jake Laird Act of 2019 to the House on May 16, 2019.
“In many ways, Indiana was ahead of its time,” Brooks said.
Brooks said the law is another tool for police departments to use to promote a safer environment. She said police officers have been trained to use the law and to use their best judgment when deciding whether or not to confiscate someone’s firearms.
“I have tremendous faith in our law enforcement to use their discretion as to when to use a law like this,” Brooks said.
Brooks said the law has been used many times for suicide prevention. In a 2018 University of Indianapolis study, researchers found a 7.5% reduction in firearms suicide in Indiana during the 10-year period since the law’s enactment.
Brooks said one reason she believes the Jake Laird Law does not infringe on Second Amendment rights is that a person can dispute their case in court.
“Most of the red flag laws are striking the right balance of upholding the Constitution and protecting Second Amendment rights,” Brooks said.
IU Maurer School of Law professor Tim Morrison said a person may have the right to own a gun, but subject to limitations.
Morrison said the Jake Laird Law should only be used in special cases and with sufficient evidence. He said people who own guns are protected from having them taken away arbitrarily because the court system has to verify the evidence was sufficient for the person’s firearms to be taken away.
“This is something that shouldn’t be done routinely, taking any person’s property without a really good reason,” Morrison said.
CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to include information about how someone is deemed a dangerous person and the unknown nature of the law's effect on gun violence.