Kamala Harris announces new office to implement ‘red flag’ gun control laws

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Kamala Harris announces new office to implement ‘red flag’ gun control laws

The White House has announced a new national office to support states implementing “red flag” laws to combat gun violence, an initiative funded by the justice department.

Kamala Harris made the announcement on Saturday during a visit to Parkland, Florida, where she toured the site of the nation’s worst high school shooting, the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre that killed 17.

The vice-president met with victims’ families – many of whom have been active in gun control advocacy since the shooting – and visited the building where 14 students and three staff members were slain.

The launch of the federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Resource Center (Erpo) follows Joe Biden’s establishment of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention in September, which the president tapped Harris to lead.

Operated through the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, and paid for by a justice department grant, Erpo is designed to help state and local governments, law enforcement, and others – including behavioral health and social service providers – “optimize” the use of red flag laws, Harris said.

It will provide training and technical assistance, including educational opportunities and workshops “for a wide variety of stakeholders”. But the vice-president also acknowledged that red flag laws, which facilitate the temporary removal of firearms from a person a court believes capable of harming themselves or others, are not universally popular.

Only 21 states have implemented red flag laws, and the White House said that only six of those states had taken advantage of $750m in funding that the Biden administration made available through the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) for crisis-intervention initiatives such as red flag programs and mental health, drug and veteran treatment courts.

Harris called on the other 29 states to enact red flag laws and urged those that already have them to tap into the BSCA funds to support them.

“The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school occurred after there were clear warning signs, but there were no tools to remove the shooter’s firearm,” a White House statement announcing the new resource office said.

“The survivors of the shooting advocated for passage of a red flag law in Florida, and the tragedy helped to inspire the passage of red flag laws in other states. These laws have been shown to prevent mass shootings and suicides, but the tools made available under these laws are only effective if people are aware of them and can properly invoke them.”

The Parkland shooter was sentenced to life imprisonment at a trial last year after two jury members refused to recommend the death penalty. The Republican legislative majority in Florida subsequently tightened the law to allow a majority jury recommendation in such cases.

Republicans also tried to reverse another provision of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas safety act, passed after the mass killing there. But the measure to lower the buying age of long guns from 21 back to 18 stalled in the state senate after passing the house.

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Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex was among the Parkland victims, joined Harris on the tour of the building where the murders occurred, one day after helping guide the FBI director, Christopher Wray, through the school. In a tweet, he rejected criticism from another victim’s family that Harris’s visit had been politically motivated.

“It is unlike any other crime scene. It has been frozen in time since the day of the shooting. Nothing has been removed, and it has not been cleaned,” said Schachter, whose non-profit Safe Schools for Alex advises students, parents, school districts and law enforcement on campus safety best practices.

“I have had many conversations and given many presentations across the country, but there is no way to replicate what one sees and experiences when they walk through the site. It profoundly affects people.

“Every time an official walks through the building, lives are saved and schools are safer. This is not a political visit. She is the vice-president of the US and she has an obligation to come to Parkland.”

The building that Harris toured – previously visited by numerous other elected state and federal officials at the families’ invitation – is scheduled to finally be demolished this summer, more than six years after the deadly shooting, and replaced with a permanent memorial to the victims.

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