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Could 'red flag' law have helped law enforcement prevent Publix shooting?

Former FBI agent-turned-attorney believes so
3 dead after Publix shooting in Royal Palm Beach on June 10, 2021
Posted at 7:21 PM, Jun 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-14 19:24:14-04

ROYAL PALM BEACH, Fla. — Would Florida's "red flag" law have given law enforcement the chance to prevent the tragic Public shooting in Royal Palm Beach had the shooter's alleged social media threats been reported? Law enforcement experts would like to think so.

In 2018, the Florida Legislature passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. It included measures that would allow law enforcement to ask the court to enter what's called a risk protection order against someone who may be a threat to himself or herself or others.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office has said that the now-dead shooter who killed a grandmother and her grandson at Publix had publicly posted on social media that he wanted "to kill people and children."

Detectives said the handgun the shooter used was a Springfield XDM .45-caliber pistol and was not originally purchased by him, but he did own at least one gun -- a .45-caliber automatic Colt pistol he listed in bankruptcy documents filed in January.

What the "red flag" law, if enacted in this case, could have done was potentially seize any weapon in his possession and make it illegal for him to buy or obtain any other gun.

"Any and all weapons that may be in possession of that person and also prevents that person from going out and purchasing or acquiring a weapon from any other individual that would be punishable in criminal contempt," Stuart Kaplan, a defense attorney and former FBI special agent, told WPTV.

Kaplan said if the statements the shooter is alleged to have made on social media had been brought to law enforcement, he believes law enforcement would have had options to prevent a tragedy.

"If I came into court as a law enforcement officer representing the agency and said, 'Look, judge, here are these Facebook postings or here are these Twitter statements -- "I'm thinking about shooting children" or "I'm thinking about shooting random people,"' I'm going to tell you, this day and age, in June of 2021, I cannot believe that there would be any judge in any competent jurisdiction, regardless of here in Florida or anywhere else, that would not immediately issue that ex-parte petition to direct that law enforcement agency to go out and seize those guns and or ammunition," Kaplan said.

The temporary ex parte risk protection order allows law enforcement to immediately seize the weapons without putting the respondent on notice.

Florida 2018-2021 Nearly 6300 ex parte R.P.O.

Since March 2018, such orders have been granted by a judge 6,299 times and orders have denied about 170 of the petitions filed.

"It's such a low threshold, as long as that law enforcement agency can articulate that they believe this person is in possession, may be suffering from mental health issues and also there is some evidence to suggest that he or she has made some sort of threat," Kaplan added.

There is also what's called a risk protection order that does give the respondent notice that law enforcement wants to seize his or her weapons. In the last three years, about 5,700 risk protection orders have been granted statewide and 365 denied. Both types of orders go through due process hearings.

Fred Guttenberg, an activist against gun violence, lost his daughter Jaime in the 2018 Parkland school shooting. He said "red flag" laws, now in 19 states, save lives.

"I think Florida is proof of how much these laws work," Guttenberg said. "However, for the laws to work, you know, people need to be paying attention to what's happening with others around them."

It comes back to what Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said about the Publix shooter's recent Facebook posts: see something, say something.