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Red Flag Laws May Have Helped Prevent Dozens of Mass Shootings, New Research Shows

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Mother Jones illustration; Getty

After high-profile mass shootings, Republican officials and gun lobbyists always point to mental illness as the cause and call for keeping firearms away from dangerous people. “We as a society need to do a better job with mental health,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a press conference in late May after a teen used an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to murder 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. Abbott also emphasized that 18-year-olds have been allowed to buy “long guns” in Texas “for more than 60 years.”

Blame on mental illness as the fundamental cause of mass shootings is unsupported by evidence and highly misleading. Extensive case research shows that, despite popular myth, mass shooters are not insane people who suddenly “snap.” But such rhetoric has long served as a way for politicians to distract from strong bipartisan support among Americans for more stringent gun laws, including comprehensive background checks for gun buyers.

Still, a range of behavioral and mental health problems factor into mass shootings and other forms of gun violence, and that speaks to the potential of a specific policy for restricting access to firearms: extreme risk protection orders, known as red flag laws. Federal funding for states to implement these laws is a significant component of the bipartisan gun bill now moving through the Senate.

A civil procedure currently used in 19 states and the District of Columbia, red flag laws allow police, family members, and in some cases other individuals to seek a court order to temporarily prohibit guns for people deemed by a judge to pose significant danger to themselves or others. Most of the 19 states adopted this policy in the past five years. Now, new research shows that California’s........

© Mother Jones

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