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New York's red flag law takes effect soon


In the wake of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, there's been renewed discussion about so-called "red flag laws" to keep guns out of the hands of some potential killers.

Twelve states and Washington, DC, have already adopted a version of the law, including New York, whose red flag law was approved last winter and takes effect on August 24.

New York's law, also known as an extreme risk protection order law, allows a judge to order the confiscation of a person's guns if law enforcement, school officials, or family members sign a statement saying they believe the person to be a potential danger to themselves or others. The person would also be prevented from buying any guns while the order is in effect.

After authorities take the guns away, a due process hearing would be held, where evidence would be presented, including things the person might have said to others verbally or on social media. After that, if the judge found that evidence "clear and convincing," he or she could extend the protection order for up to one year.

A study found red flag laws in Indiana and Connecticut reduced the occurrence of gun suicides. Congress has prevented federal agencies from studying the effects of gun violence, so not much other data is available. 

New York has an additional means of keeping guns away from potentially dangerous individuals. Known as the mental health database, it was approved as part of comprehensive gun control measures known as the SAFE Act, which was passed in 2013, shortly after the Sandy Hook, Connecticut, school shooting.

The provision requires mental health professionals in New York to notify authorities if they think a patient might engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to themselves or others.

Discussing it on WXXI's "Connections" program last week, Cuomo said New York's mental-health data base contains the names of 100,000 "seriously mentally ill people" who can't now buy guns. The requirement is controversial among some mental health advocates, who say someone could end up on the list simply for discussing their symptoms with a medical professional.

Cuomo wants the database extended to the rest of the country, and he's asked Democratic presidential candidates to endorse that proposal, as well as a ban on assault weapons and universal background checks for gun buyers.

Karen DeWitt is Albany correspondent for WXXI News.