Florida Senator Jeff Brandes, R- St. Petersburg, was surprised to learn children as young as 8-years-old are being petitioned by law enforcement to stay away from guns under the state’s new red flag law. State law already prohibits anyone younger than 21 from buying a gun.
“I don’t understand how an 8-year-old could have legal custody or control over a firearm,” he said. “I would be shocked at that.”
The law, swiftly passed after the Parkland school shooting, was created to protect the public from future mass shooters. Since it was implemented in March 2018, more than 2,500 people have been stripped of their gun possession and ownership rights under the law, including at least 100 juveniles, the I-team found.
“To apply it to juveniles who clearly don’t have care, control or custody- don’t own one, have never had one in their home seems to be an overstep,” said Brandes.
The I-Team found Polk County filed the most orders of any county with more than 400 cases filed since the law took effect. Of those issued in the county, our investigation found more than 20 percent involved juveniles including an 8-year-old boy who got mad at school and then threatened to “get a gun and shoot everybody up.” The judge denied the order against the boy.
In other counties, such as Broward and Pinellas where hundreds of risk protection orders have also been filed, the I-Team found minors made up less than 5 percent of cases.
The I-Team found the majority of risk protection order cases in Polk County are filed by the sheriff’s office.
“This is the first time I’ve heard of a sheriff blanketly [sic] applying this to all juvenile in their jurisdiction,” said Brandes. “I think the sheriff needs to take a look at his policy and, frankly, the legislature needs to review the policies and how it is being applied,” he said.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, known for his no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is crime-fighting style, defends his department’s use of the red flag law against kids.
“First, it’s to put the parents on notice that you got to do a really good job at securing your firearms, so your children can’t get to it and number two, it’s putting the parents on notice about your kid’s got an issue here,” Judd said. “We’ve educated kids over and over and told them words matter. If you threaten, we’re taking every threat serious because we don’t know who’s going to shoot up the school,” he said.
Florida is one of 17 states that now has red flag laws. State laws don’t restrict juveniles from being issued orders and, in most counties, these cases are filed in open court , so even juvenile cases are accessible to the public.
Orlando defense attorney Kendra Parris said these cases against juveniles make no sense since they can’t, legally, buy a gun and if a child makes a legitimate threat they can be punished criminally. She’s also concerned kids ordered under the red flag law could face long term damage since the court records are public.
“These children have no protection against prying eyes,” Parris said. “There are a lot of places that would look twice at a child that has been labeled dangerous by the state of Florida,” she said.
Sheriff Judd said he would support making juvenile red flag cases confidential.
Senator Brandes agrees but adds the state legislature needs to review the law to make sure it’s being implemented against the right people and not kids who don’t own or have access to guns.
“At the end of the day, we need to refine the law to ensure we’re catching the people that were intended in this net,” Brandes said.
More from the Florida Investgative Team
- U.S Congressman demands action after I-team finds parents give up custody for mental health services