Alabama “Red Flag Bill” Allows Courts to Remove Guns
MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA – April 16, 2019
On March 21, Representative Merika Coleman (D – Birmingham) introduced 2019 Alabama House Bill HB265, also known as the Gun Violence Protective Order Act, which would prohibit individuals who are found by the court to be a legitimate threat to themselves or others from owning, possessing, using, or receiving a firearm for up to one year.
If passed, the bill would authorize courts to issue ex parte gun violence protective orders and one-year gun violence protective orders, which may be authorized if the court finds that the respondent, as defined, poses an immediate and present danger of causing personal injury to self or others. A petitioner – defined as a family member, teacher, or law enforcement officer – may petition the court for a protective order against an individual (aka the respondent).
According to Bamapolitics, the draft legislation was modeled after other “red flag” bills that have been passed in different states around the country. Coleman believes HB265 would give family members, teachers, and law enforcement officers a critical tool to help prevent a potential gun tragedy in Alabama. However, she was also sure to stress the strict process that must be completed for an order to be issued.
“It’s very specific about the court process,” Coleman said. “I don’t want anyone to think any person off the street can file this against someone.”
According to the current text of the bill, which is currently under consideration in the House Judiciary Committee, if the court finds by a “preponderance of evidence” that the respondent does, in fact, pose a substantial danger, then a one-year gun violence protective order will be issued. The order would prohibit the respondent from owning, possessing, controlling, or receiving a firearm or ammunition for up to one year. Behaviors, which might include other acts or threats of violence, self-harm, or the abuse of drugs or alcohol, serve as warning signs that the individual might soon commit an act of violence, the bill text reads.
“Nothing I read in there led me to believe that it was anything other than trying to take a gun from someone who was either a danger to their family, the public, or themselves,” Representative K.L. Brown (R – Jacksonville) said.
Brown said that during his time in the funeral home business, he saw several situations where a bill like HB265 could have prevented a loss of life – including a recent tragedy within his district (D40) where a young man named Trenton Gordon killed his 6-month-old child and then himself after an argument with the child’s mother. The Calhoun County Sheriff’s’ Department said that the mother had filed for a protective order against Gordon prior to the incident.
Brown said he would seriously consider voting in favor of HB265, but didn’t want to commit either way until he saw the final version of the bill.
Though she hopes HB265 will pass this session, Coleman said that her primary goal right now is to ensure that her colleagues in the State House are properly educated about the intent of the bill and the parameters within.
“This particular session may be an education session,” she said. “Sometimes what happens is you’ll see people who introduce the same bill over and over again because it gives members an opportunity to learn.”
Despite any obstacles that may lay ahead, Coleman said that, as an elected representative, she has an obligation to address gun violence in Alabama.
“At the end of the day, my job is to lead,” she said. “As lawmakers, it’s our responsibility. When we see there’s a problem or need, we have to do something about it.”
The bill’s critics say it gives courts room to take punitive action without a conviction. The subject of the petition must prove to no longer be a threat to get their property back. They'd prefer it to be that the court must prove that the respondent continue to be a threat otherwise the property automatically reverts back to its owner. Critics raise their concern that courts should have to fight to maintain the order rather than citizens having to fight to get it lifted.
Other states are also taking steps to prevent gun violence. Last Friday, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a “red flag” gun bill into law, giving judges the power to temporarily take guns from people thought to be at high risk of harming themselves or others, according to The Hill.
Last September USA Really reported on a shooting at a McDonald’s near Auburn University in Alabama, when a man was killed and four others were seriously injured.