Courtesy of CT-N
Rep. Arthur O’Neill and Rep. Doug Dubitsky (Courtesy of CT-N)

HARTFORD, CT — A Connecticut lawmaker who helped draft the 1999 “risk warrant” legislation suggested Friday that states like Florida would benefit from a law that allows officials to remove a firearm from a home if a court finds the person at a high risk of violence or self-harm.

“It has not turned into some sort of wholesale confiscation program for firearms,” Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, said Friday.

Prompted by the shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead and dozens injured, O’Neill said he would be sending copies of Connecticut’s legislation to the presiding officers of each state legislature for their consideration. Only four other states have adopted similar laws.

“The senseless gun tragedies across our nation have forced state legislatures, including Connecticut, to look deep into their laws to close loopholes and strengthen protections for innocent citizens,” O’Neill said Friday.

The same day O’Neill had the news conference the FBI admitted it failed to investigate a warning that the shooter had a gun and a desire to kill. The information reported to the FBI tip line on Jan. 5 was never forwarded to the FBI’s Miami office.

At the same time, O’Neill isn’t suggesting Connecticut’s law is a “panacea.” It didn’t stop the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School where an emotionally disturbed gunman took the lives of 26 students and educators.

There’s also no illusion that something will happen at the federal level regarding firearm seizures.

“It would be difficult for the federal government to deal with this issue since what we call for in our statute is that you contact a prosecutor or a police officer and have them conduct the investigation,” O’Neill said.

He said he would have difficulty finding the FBI if he needed them, but he knows how to contact his local police department.

O’Neill said this type of legislation should be part of the conversation in Florida, since the shooting is what they were thinking of when they adopted this law. The adoption of Connecticut’s law happened after the 1998 Lottery shootings.

O’Neill recalled that even Second Amendment groups remained neutral during Connecticut’s debate. That year, the bill passed the House 103-47 and the Senate 29-6.

Mike Lawlor, Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning
Connecticut Risk Warrant’s issued by year (Mike Lawlor, Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning)

Mike Lawlor, Connecticut’s Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning, has been using his Facebook page to share data with state residents, including the chart above. It says the state has issued 1,519 risk warrants since the law’s passage in 1999.

“You will notice a steady, upward trend and then two spikes: one after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 and a second following the Sandy Hook massacre in 2013,” Lawlor wrote. “We encourage people to ‘say something’ if they ‘see something.’ After the recent cascade of mass shootings we find that people are more likely to alert the police when they have concerns about persons who have guns and who are beginning to show signs of dangerousness. [Connecticut], unlike most other states, provides step-by-step guidance for law enforcement on how to evaluate these alerts and allows judges to authorize an intervention.”

A staunch and outspoken supporter of the Second Amendment, Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, said this is something other states should be moving toward because it requires due process and a hearing before a judge.

“Even someone like myself who strongly supports Second Amendment gun rights can get behind it because it can actually protect people,” Dubitsky said. “It can actually save lives, while at the same time ensuring that there is due process.”

California, Washington, Oregon, and Indiana have adopted similar laws.

According to a 2016 study of the law, it has been successful in preventing suicides.

Researchers From Yale, Duke, and the University of Connecticut found that during the first eight years the law was on the books it was used infrequently, fewer than 10 times per year. That changed in 2007 following the mass shooting at Virginia Tech University. Since that time, gun removal cases increased to about 100 per year and the law resulted in a cumulative total of 762 removals between 1999 and the end of 2013.

Under Connecticut’s law, police must obtain a civil warrant from a judge with probable cause that the person is at risk of harming themselves or others. A civil court hearing must be held within two weeks to decide whether to return the guns to the owner, or to hold the guns for up to a year.

Of the 762 instances of temporary gun seizures, 95 percent of the people were male with an average age of 47. An average of seven firearms were sequestered per case. Most of the people were not involved in the criminal justice system; 88 percent had no arrests leading to a criminal conviction in the year before or the year after their firearms were temporarily removed, according to the study.

Just 12 percent of the people whose guns were temporarily removed were already receiving mental health treatment in the year before the guns were seized. At least 29 percent received mental health treatment in the year following their gun seizures, suggesting to researchers that mental health care was an indirect result of the temporary gun removal.

Among the 762 interventions, 21 of the people involved ended up committing suicide — a proportion 40 times higher than the suicide rate among the general population. Fifteen people used methods other than firearms to kill themselves. Six people used guns to kill themselves. All of the gun-related suicides occurred after the person was once again eligible to buy a gun or reclaimed weapons that had been held by authorities.

Researchers used the data to conclude that for every 10 to 20 instances of temporary gun seizures, one suicide was prevented.