Politics & Government

Kansas bills would block ‘red flag’ orders that require residents to give up guns

Kansas residents under a court order to turn over their guns would be shielded from having to comply, under proposals before the Legislature when it returns next month.

Twin bills filed in the House and Senate would prohibit Kansas authorities from enforcing so-called “red flag” orders issued in other states barring Kansas residents from possessing weapons because they are considered a danger to themselves or others.

The “Anti-Red Flag Act,” bans enforcement of any court order “for which the primary purpose is to reduce the risk of firearm-related death or injury” by stopping individuals from owning or having a gun.

The bills would also bar state law enforcement from filing red flag orders or following any federal red flag order issued in the future against a resident of the state. Neither Kansas nor the federal government currently have a red flag law.

“The goal is to make sure that we guarantee Kansans’ Sixth Amendment right, which is due process,” said Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, a Galena Republican who is sponsoring the Senate bill. “That is the sole purpose of it.”

Kansas lawmakers have worked for years to loosen the state’s gun laws. They have eliminated permits for carrying concealed weapons and largely rebuffed attempts to restrict where they are allowed.

But the Anti-Red Flag Act represents a new direction.

“It’s stunning. I think most people feel like somebody who has a mental illness shouldn’t possess a firearm,” House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat, said.

The Kansas bills are part of a movement to establish what gun rights supporters call Second Amendment sanctuaries. In recent months, counties across the country have said they won’t enforce gun laws they believe are unconstitutional.

Seventeen states have some form of red flag law, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The measures appear to enjoy broad support; an American Public Media survey of 1,000 adults conducted this summer found 77 percent in support.

Research has found a link between red flag laws and a reduction in suicides. A 2018 study published in the journal Psychiatric Services found red flag statutes were associated with a 7.5 percent drop in firearm suicides in Indiana over 10 years and a 13.7 percent reduction in Connecticut.

“It is a very, I think, moderate approach to making sure we can help people who are in crisis before a tragedy occurs,” said Jo Ella Hoye, a former leader of the Kansas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America who is running for the Kansas House in Johnson County as a Democrat.

After that August mass shootings in El Paso, Tex., and Dayton, Ohio that killed 31 and injured dozens, some in Congress appeared ready to embrace a national red flag law. President Donald Trump said he supported the idea, but momentum has since faded.

“My interest in it was when the federal government started talking about passing red flag laws,” Hilderbrand said.

Critics of the measures – both at the state and federal level — have raised due process concerns. They say the laws allow guns to be confiscated without a criminal conviction and in some instances seized based solely on the word of a family member.

Hilderbrand said the bill is based on a measure in the Oklahoma legislature. That bill’s sponsor, Oklahoma state Sen. Nathan Drahm, says it’s designed to protect rights.

“Somebody could be falsely accused, the police could show up at their home and confiscate their weapons. And then they have to go and they have to get an attorney and it could take 30 days or longer, in some instances months, for them to go and prove their innocence,” Drahm said in a video he posted to Facebook.

Dave Kopel, research director at the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank in Denver, contends red flag orders can be legitimate when fair procedures are used. Red flag petitions should be made by law enforcement and must guarantee the right to cross-examination and an attorney, he said.

For example, he praised Indiana and Connecticut for limiting petitions from family members.

“The confiscation petition has to go from a governmental official who’s done an independent investigation, which I think is far superior,” Kopel said.

Kopel said he hasn’t heard of anti-red flag laws in other states. But he noted that some counties in Colorado say they won’t enforce orders under the state’s just-passed red flag law.

It’s unclear how much support the anti-red flag bills enjoy from Kansas gun advocates. Calls and a text to a spokesman for the Kansas State Rifle Association’s political arm went unanswered.

KSRA’s political action committee has previously shared an NRA statement on Facebook that appeared supportive of the sanctuary movement.

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Jonathan Shorman covers Kansas politics and the Legislature for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. He’s been covering politics for six years, first in Missouri and now in Kansas. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.