Warning signs often blink bright red just before a mass shooting.
Ominous threats made against co-workers. A history of domestic violence. Eerie social media posts with individuals showing off their guns and ammunition. Nasty tirades against certain ethnic groups by someone with escalating mental health issues.
There are often many warning signs before gun violence, whether it’s a mass shooting or an intimate partner murder. And while we need to aggressively prosecute gun traffickers and get illegal guns off our streets, we have a new tool to get guns out of the hands of those who would do violence. And it can’t come too soon.
In 2019, Queens’ shootings are up 8.6 percent with 6 percent more shooting victims over 2018 year-to-date through early October, according to NYPD figures. Disturbing reports show homicides have spiked this year in northern and southeastern Queens.
This is intolerable. As Queens district attorney, I will use the state’s newest gun law to help prevent the continuing bloodshed.
New York State recently joined the ranks of states with so-called red flag laws or Extreme Risk Protection Orders. The law wisely allows family members, members of law enforcement including district attorneys and school officials to seek a court petition to temporarily seize the firearms of individuals deemed a threat to themselves or others.
Unfortunately, just 17 states and the District of Columbia have enacted such laws to date — even though the National Rifle Association duplicitously refuses to endorse red flag laws while stating, “those who have been adjudicated as a danger to themselves or others should not have access to firearms and should be admitted for treatment.”
Red flag laws/Extreme Risk Protection Orders are just plain common sense — particularly as the death tolls continue to mount from shooting rampages. In September, just weeks after the new law took effect, an upstate man became the first in the state to have his guns confiscated after he was arrested for shooting a pistol at a parked car and telling authorities he planned to harm himself.
I will act quickly to establish ongoing training sessions on how to use the law, led by my office with law enforcement, school officials, domestic violence advocates and community groups. Judges are only permitted to rule to take an individual’s guns after being presented with compelling evidence.
We all have a duty to act if we think someone may be planning a shooting. The lives of our families, friends and neighbors are potentially at risk.
As leaders, we must encourage family members, school officials and law-enforcement authorities to recognize the warning signs of a potential tragedy. We need to then help them bring their concerns about a troubled individual and proper evidence — such as threats of violence or social media posts of concern — to the attention of our courts.
This is a vital tool to intercept would-be mass shooters before yet another tragedy occurs. It would be another tragedy not to have used that tool if warning signs were blinking bright red well before someone started shooting.
As a lifelong resident of Queens, much of it spent in public service, I have seen too often the devastation that shooting deaths cause families and neighborhoods. As the mother of two young sons, I am focused on the safety of all Queens’ children and young adults.
Using the state’s new red flag law most effectively is another way to help save those lives.
Melinda Katz is Queens Borough President and District Attorney-elect. She authored this piece before winning the race for district attorney on Nov. 5.