PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Gun laws are on the minds of many in the wake of the tragic mass shootings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, earlier this week and a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store earlier this month.
Now, several U.S. lawmakers are discussing whether to expand certain gun laws nationwide. One of those laws is commonly known as the red flag law. Its intent is to keep guns out of the hands of someone who poses a threat to themselves or others.
The so-called red flag law went into effect in Virginia in 2020 to help prevent mass shootings. State police are now gathering data to see how often it’s been used.
Virginia is not immune to mass shootings. In Virginia Beach, a city employee opened fire at the municipal center, killing 12 people, in 2019.
At Virginia Tech in 2007, 32 people were killed by a gunman. Lori Haas’ daughter was a student at the time. She survived the shooting.
“After that mass tragedy - remaining the largest school shooting in country - we learned how porous the gun laws are,” said Haas.
That’s when Haas and other advocates pushed for the red flag law.
She’s now an advocacy manager for Center for Gun Violence Solutions. Haas said, the organization found that so far, the law is working.
“When a person is at risk of harm to self or others, a time-out works,” she said. “Remove the firearm from that person and let that person get the help he or she needs; address the crisis. It’s not always mental illness. The crisis might involve drug abuse. It might involve grief. It might involve hate or depression.”
The red flag law temporarily takes firearms away from someone who’s determined to be at risk of hurting themselves or others.
That person would have to be reported to a local police department. Police would then investigate the situation and a court would decide if an emergency substantial risk order or a substantial risk order is needed.
If there is enough evidence of a threat, that person’s access to guns could be taken away for up to six months.
After the latest horrific mass shooting in Texas where 19 children and two teachers were killed earlier this week, Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales is raising awareness about the red flag law.
“We have to use everything that we can within the law to keep our communities and our students safe,” Morales said.
Right now, the law only applies to adults, but school administrators and families can work with police to report someone.
“If there is an allegation that a student may be in possession of a gun or maybe there’s a gun in the home, that’s something that should be reported; it can be investigated,” said Morales. “If there is an adult, parent or someone who is not securing their guns, and that’s potentially creating a risk for those in the community, that might be something that has to be taken up in court.”
Haas said 70% to 80% of school shooters get their firearms at home.
“What is absolutely necessary, is for gun owners to lock up and store their guns responsibly,” she said.
If a person’s guns are taken away because of the red flag law, they can petition to get them back.
Meantime, as for Haas’ daughter, she said she’s doing really well. She’s now married, has two kids and is a high school French teacher.
You can watch our full interview with Morales as she breaks down Virginia's red flag law below: