By Chaitram Aklu
New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Red Flag Gun Protection Bill into law on Monday Feb. 25, 2019 – a first in the nation that empowers school teachers to do something when they believe that a person could be a danger to themselves or others. A teacher or family member can now file a petition with a judge to order an evaluation of that person.
The signing took place at John Jay College in NYC with Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi joining the governor. The law “builds on New York’s strongest in the nation gun laws and makes New York the first in the United States to empower teachers and school administrators to prevent school shootings by pursuing court intervention.”, the governor told the packed theater with numerous members of organizations that worked relentlessly to create this bill. Most prominent among them were MOMS DEMAND ACTION, NEW YORKERS AGAINST GUN VIOLENCE, FIERCE ADVOCATES FOR JUSTICE and educators from inside and outside of New York City.
The stated purpose of the Red Flag Gun Protection Bill is “To prevent individuals from accessing firearms, rifles, and shotguns who have been deemed, through judicial process, likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to themselves or others.” They are prevented from purchasing and possessing any kind of firearm.
In a providing a background the governor made reference to Sandy Hook in Connecticut, where 20 young children and 6 teachers were killed in 2012. Noting that Sandy Hook was not going to be an exception, New York State passed the SAFE Act (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act) on January 15, 2013.The Act banned assault weapons, banned high capacity magazines, and extended background checks to private sales of weapons.
In over half of the school shootings that have occurred, teachers now say there were noticeable signs. The 20 year old Sandy Hook gunman suffered from mental problems and went untreated for years before the shooting. The mother of the19 year old shooting suspect at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in Florida revealed that her son displayed self-harm tendencies. And a neighbor also stated that she observed strange behaviors that he displayed.
Previously only mental health professionals who find themselves in situations where a patient may harm him or herself or others were mandated reporters. School personnel were not included but were mandated reporters for child abuse and neglect under the previous laws. Now The Red Flag bill gives authority to a school administrator or administrator’s designee in writing to file a petition with respect to the person against whom the order is sought. The law states that a designee may be a school teacher, school guidance counselor, school psychologist, school social worker, school nurse, or other school personnel required to hold a teaching license or certificate –.”
The law previously did not apply to private sales of weapons. The SAFE Act mandates that anyone who has a gun must go through a background check.
The governor noted that in the first year President Trump took office, 40,000 people were killed by guns. This number was the highest recorded in the 50 years since the Centers for Disease Control began recording gun deaths. Since the passage of New York’s SAFE Act, 130, 000 people have been placed on the mental health database and can’t purchase a gun in the state.
Speaker Pelosi, noted that 90 percent of the public now supports gun violence prevention, “the gun violence issue is a national health epidemic in our country.” Adding, “Now let me say when we talk about Red Flag and people with certain challenges, 99 percent with any diagnosis are safe, law abiding people in our country. As we do this, we just want to identify – prioritize to save others, and save the lives of the persons themselves.” She told the audience that the Congress will introduce two bills later in the week – and on Wednesday, it introduced a bill “To regulate assault weapons, to ensure that the right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited, …”. On Thursday it passed the Enhanced Background Check Act of 2019, which extends the time period for background checks to more than 72 hours to facilitate more thorough investigations.
The governor noted that The SAFE Act saved lives. Adding “the Red Flag bill, I have no doubt, will save lives and doesn’t infringe on anybody’s rights.”