The massacre of eight people last week at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis has stirred debate and concern about red-flag laws and their effectiveness. The teen gunman responsible for the carnage had been on police radar and a firearm had been confiscated from him because of requests from his family. But law enforcement did not move forward to ensure he was properly flagged to prevent him from obtaining the semiautomatic weapons he later used in the FedEx attack.
Illinois has stricter gun laws than its neighboring state, and its red-flag law allows families and friends of potentially dangerous individuals to go to court to request intervention from the courts. In Indiana, only law enforcement can go to court to seek red-flag action.
No law is perfect when it comes to preventing mass killings or gun violence. Illinois has had its share of problems with violence, despite its broader red-flag law.
The Indiana situation points out the need for remaining vigilant in efforts to craft laws that provide the opportunity to prevent mayhem.
We offer the following editorial for further reflection on the issue.
Indiana’s red flag law is under scrutiny after a mass killing last week at an Indianapolis FedEx facility.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see the law’s shortcomings.
Under red flag laws — as of April 2020, 19 states and the District of Columbia had them — police or family can seek a court order to take guns away from an individual deemed a danger to himself or others. Indiana was second only to Connecticut to enact such legal safeguards.
But provisions of Indiana’s red flag law, enacted in 2005 after a mentally ill man fatally shot an Indianapolis police officer, add complexities to the process.
The law requires police to file an affidavit with the court within 48 hours after a warrant has been served. It also says courts must make a “good faith effort” to conduct a hearing within two weeks of confiscating any weapons.
Compliance with those timelines is unrealistic for overburdened police departments and courts with burgeoning dockets. Police investigation of the FedEx shooting lifted blinders to the law’s inadequacies.
On the night of April 15, 19-year-old Brandon Hole of Indianapolis drove to the FedEx plant near the airport on the city’s west side. The former employee emerged from his vehicle with two assault-type rifles and began shooting, killing four people outside the facility and four more inside before taking his own life.
Once the shooter was identified, law enforcement was able to confirm that he had purchased the guns legally. But a troubling scenario emerged, leaving people to question whether Hole should have been able to buy the guns.
A police report from March 2020 shows that Hole’s mother summoned police over her concerns that he was a danger to himself. At the time, police took a pump-action shotgun away from the then-18-year-old.
But that’s where legal intervention ended.
Hole never appeared in court for a hearing under the state’s red flag law. Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said his office didn’t have enough time to make the case that Hole was a danger and shouldn’t be allowed to have a gun.
Indianapolis police never returned the shotgun to Hole, but because the case never went to court, he was able to buy the rifles used in last week’s rampage.
Indiana’s red flag law was designed to prevent tragedies like the one that happened last week. This case should have gone before a judge to determine whether Hole was a threat to himself or others.
Red flags symbolize danger and the need to stop, but this time the warnings went unheeded, in part due to intrinsic flaws in the law. Lawmakers need to amend the law to set up a process that actually works.
News and Tribune, Jeffersonville