Risk protection orders turn red flags into preventative action for law enforcement

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It’s sometimes called a red flag law. In Florida, law enforcement agencies can ask a judge to temporarily seize someone’s guns with a risk protection order.

The orders are used if someone is deemed a threat to themselves or others.

Last Thursday, Zachary Walls sent a disturbing text message. According to the arrest affidavit, the 26-year-old was recently fired from his job, and sent a former co-worker a text saying, “I thought of just walking in there and killing everyone and then shooting myself.”

The Kenneth City man was arrested, but he also had a risk protection order issued against him. 

“It gives law enforcement another tool to address people who may be violent or mentally I’ll, or engage in patterns of crime,” said Sasha Lohn, General Counsel for the St. Petersburg Police Department. “It’s just another tool in the toolbox to prevent mass shootings or other gun violence.”

Lohn says law enforcement officers ask the court to issue a risk protection order on someone. That RPO temporarily takes away the person’s right to possess or buy firearms.

“So it’s specifically tailored to the individual situation and the potential violence to be mitigated,” Lohn said.

The law went into effect last March as part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.  In the first nine-months, Pinellas County judges issued 193 gun-seizure orders. So far this year, 149 people in the County have been deemed too dangerous to have weapons.

“I think that it’s an instrumental tool, I can’t imagine law enforcement not having the option to seek a risk protection order,” said Lohn.

Here in the Sunshine State, the statute was carefully written to include checks and balances so risk protection orders don’t undermine your constitutional rights.

A person with an RPO also has the opportunity to request a hearing to have it removed.

“The person who has the risk protection order on them can say to the judge ‘I’m healthy, I got help,’ they can present evidence that they should no longer be the subject of a risk protection order,” explained Lohn.

Risk protection orders are not unique to Florida, at least 15 other states have red flag laws on the books. The specifics vary from state to state, and they have different names, but the goal is the same, to take action in the face of imminent danger.