Indiana's red flag law gets national attention after mass shootings
GREENTOWN – Last month, law enforcement officers responded to a house in Greentown, in which a man fired off 10 rounds inside the residence after hallucinating that someone had broken into his home.
Greentown Police Marshal James Skinner said no one had broken in, but there were other people inside at the time, all of whom could have been shot in the incident.
Skinner was called by Howard County deputies to the scene in the 400 block of East Walnut Street, where he talked to two women outside who escaped from the house and reported the man was hallucinating.
“He had panicked and started firing his weapon,” Skinner said. “We found shell casings on the floor and 10 bullet holes in the doors and windows.”
When the man finally exited the house, officers transported him to Community Howard Regional Health, where he underwent a mental health evaluation.
That’s when officers searched the home and found around seven guns inside, including a .380-caliber handgun, a 12-gauge shotgun, a .22-caliber revolver and other antique weapons.
Officers confiscated all the firearms so the man wouldn’t have access to the guns when he returned.
“If he still had those guns in his possession, something like that could happen again, and the next time someone could get hurt,” Skinner said.
But that’s something Indiana officers were barred from doing until 2005, when state legislators passed a “red flag law” allowing officers to take custody of a citizen’s firearms, with or without a warrant, when there is cause to believe a person intends to harm himself or someone else.
Once the guns are seized, a judge must hold a hearing within 14 days to begin the process of determining if the person should get the weapons back, or if the firearms should be destroyed.
Now, that Indiana law is getting national attention as federal legislators struggle to find ways to stop mass shootings like the ones earlier this month in Ohio and Texas that left 31 people dead.
Indiana’s red-flag legislation is called the Jake Laird Law. It was named after an Indianapolis officer who was shot and killed in 2004 by a mentally ill man who was allowed to have guns despite being arrested just months before.
Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, Republican congresswoman, submitted legislation called the Jake Laird Act that would give grants to encourage states to adopt red flag laws.
Brooks said Indiana’s law is a straightforward way to ensure officers have the tools to stop someone who might use a firearm to hurt himself or others.
“We’re not trying to take guns away from law abiding citizens and people who don’t have serious issues,” she said Thursday at a farming roundtable event near Greentown. “It’s really only about giving law enforcement a tool to take guns out of the hands of someone they believe will be a harm to themselves or other people.”
In the case of the Greentown shooting, Tate said he is considering releasing the weapons to a family member of the man, with the stipulation the man cannot use, or have access to, the firearms.
Tate said many cases involve someone struggling with a mental illness, but some come from people who are simply having a difficult time and considering suicide.
He said his decision whether to release the weapons back to the person is made based on reports from counselors, family members and officers, and sometimes he’ll take up to a year to determine whether to release or destroy the firearms.
“The last thing I want to do is release a weapon back to someone who is a danger,” Tate said. “The fingers will all point back to me if that happens, so I take these cases extremely seriously. We want to make sure we make right decision.”
Brooks said that kind of due process built into Indiana’s red flag law makes it a good template for national legislation that aims to prevent mass shootings.
“I’m a strong, pro-Second Amendment person,” she said. “However, I also believe there is more we could be doing. … We as a community have to find more ways for people to report danger.”
Brooks said the Jake Laird Law has been used more than 700 times in Indianapolis alone since it passed in 2005.
And in a year that already has seen more than 250 mass shootings in cities and towns around the U.S., it’s time for action, she said.
“It can happen anywhere, folks,” Brooks said. “… We can’t have our families scared to send their kids to school. We can’t have the people scared to death to be out in public. But it’s not about taking guns away from law abiding citizens.”