More than 467 people in Florida have been ordered by the government to surrender their firearms since March under a new law passed after the deadly Parkland shooting in February, according to a local ABC broadcaster.
The Risk Protection Order, is a “Red Flag” law that Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed several weeks after former student Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people at Stoneman Douglas High School in March, allows the local government to disarm the civilian population if a judge determines they are a threat to themselves or others.
Under the new law, state officials have the ability to file risk-protection petitions against irresponsible gun owners in court, which could result in local law enforcement stripping that individual of the second amendment.
Recently, Sgt. Jason Schmittendorf, who is employed by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office, told ABC News that Tampa Bay officers have “taken in about 200 firearms and around 30,000 rounds of ammunition.”
“You’ve got an AK-47 style here and an AR-15 style there. We’ve got some rifles and a cache of handguns,” said Schmittendorf, who showed the ABC News team some of the weapons confiscated under the new law.
Sgt. Jason Schmittendorf of Pinellas Counties Risk Protection Order Unit speaks with ABC reporter Katie LaGrone (Source/ ABC)
Here are some of the weapons confiscated by officers (Source/ ABC)
The Sheriff’s office has assembled a five-person team devoted to working only risk protection cases. Since March, the group has filed 64 risk protection petitions in court, the second highest number of cases in the state. Broward County leads with 88 risk protection petitions (as of early-July).
“It’s a constitutional right to bear arms and when you are asking the court to deprive somebody of that right we need to make sure we are making good decisions, right decisions and the circumstances warrant it,” explained Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri when asked by ABC News why he decided to form an entire unit dedicated to upholding the new law.
To get more clarity on Sheriff Gualtieri’s thought process, he also happens to be the chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, a task force designed to prevent future school shootings.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri (Source/ ABC)
Since March, ABC has learned that the new law has had over 467 risk protection cases filed across the state (as of July 24th), according to the FL Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DOACS). DOACS is in charge of gun permitting in Florida and is informed when a petition is filed. An agency spokesperson told ABC that “over a quarter of risk protection cases filed so far involve concealed license firearm holders whose license temporarily is suspended once the order is granted.”
However, attorney Kendra Parris — who believes the new law could be disastrous — disagrees with the idea that state officials are making the right decisions. “I think we’re doing this because it makes us feel safer,” said Parris, in an interview with ABC. “What’s wrong with that,” asked reporter Katie LaGrone. “It violates the constitution,” responded Parris.
Kendra Parris, Attorney, seen in an interview with reporter Katie LaGrone (Source/ ABC)
After four-and-a-half months of the new law, Parris believes Florida’s version of the “Red Flag” law has revealed some important grey areas that need to be addressed: including state officials targeting citizens with risk-protection petitions who do not have histories of violence or mental illness.
“These are individuals who are often exercising their first amendment rights online, who are protecting constitutionally protected speech online,” she said. “Maybe it was odious, maybe people didn’t like it but they were hit with the risk protection order because of it,” she said.
Parris told ABC News that she represented University of Central Florida student, Chris Velasquez, who made national headlines in March when Orlando police filed a risk protection petition after he spoke highly of mass shooters on social media.
In another case, Parris describes, a minor, who said she wanted to kill people on social media.
Parris mentioned that in both cases, the individuals did not own guns and both won their court cases.
“The people whom I’ve represented fought back because they care about their future not because they cared about owning firearms,” she told ABC.
Parris suggested that the law needs to be redefined to only target citizens with proof of gun ownership or who have histories of attempting to purchase one. In addition, she said the law needs to have a better understanding of who is an “imminent” threat and who is a “threat.”
“As it’s written now the harm can be in 6 months or maybe in a year this person will go crazy, we don’t know but out of an abundance of caution we need to get this risk protection in place,” she said.
According to ABC News, Pinellas County has the majority of risk protection cases in the state and most involve people with mental illness.
With “Red Flag” Laws popping up across the country, it seems as the government’s plan to strip civilians of their firearms is already in motion.