ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Gun-control advocates in Maryland said Monday a new law will save lives by enabling courts to temporarily restrict firearms access for people found to be a risk to themselves or others.
The new red flag law went into effect on the one-year anniversary of the nation’s deadliest mass shooting in modern history in Las Vegas, where 58 people were killed and hundreds injured. Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith, who sponsored the legislation in Maryland, said residents will have a way to remove guns from people who pose a threat to the community.
“Starting today, they will have an actual process that they can activate, an actual way to activate the judicial system, and try to stem the proliferation of gun violence,” she said.
Since the Parkland High School shooting killed 17 people in Florida in February, eight states have approved red flag laws in addition to five states that already had them.
Jen Pauliukonis, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, said the law already is being implemented quickly. Authorities and mental health facilities have conducted training to implement the law, she said, and advocacy groups are holding monthly forms about it.
“The public education is key to this,” Pauliukonis said. “Family members have to understand that they now have the tools and law enforcement now has the tools to prevent a tragedy before it happens by temporarily removing guns from possession of the person who is in danger either to themselves or to others.”
Dorothy Paugh, who lost her son Peter Lapa Lilly in 2012 to suicide, said the law will help save people who are suicidal.
“Mental illness is complex and getting treatment can be complicated and expensive, but what is simple, what is inexpensive and what is effective is keeping firearms and ammunition out of reach for those who pose a danger to themselves or to others,” Paugh, who also lost her father to suicide, said at a news conference.
Maryland has been shaken by highly publicized shootings this year. In March, Jaelynn Willey was fatally shot by a classmate at Great Mills High School in southern Maryland before the 17-year-old gunman shot and killed himself. In June, a man with a shotgun attacked The Capital newspaper office, killing five employees. Last month, a woman killed three people at a Maryland warehouse before she shot herself. Authorities said she had been diagnosed with mental illness in 2016, but had legally purchased the handgun she used in the attack.
Del. Kathleen Dumais, a Montgomery County Democrat, said she believes lawmakers will discuss ways of strengthening the red flag law in the next legislative session. Now it allows police, medical professionals, close relatives or dating partners to seek a court order.
“I think we want to see how it is implemented, see what other states have done, but I do think that there will at least be a discussion of expanding the list of individuals that can file these particular orders,” Dumais said.
A law banning bump stocks, which can increase a semi-automatic rifle’s firing rate, also took effect Monday. Bump stocks were used in the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Another law that took effect in Maryland requires convicted domestic abusers to surrender guns to law enforcement or a firearms dealer. Domestic abusers already were prohibited from possessing guns, but because of a loophole they were not required to give up guns they already owned before conviction.
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