HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut law that allows authorities to remove weapons from emotionally troubled people should be replicated across the country to help prevent mass shootings like the one that happened this week at a Florida high school, according to a veteran legislator who is pitching the legislation nationally.
Republican Rep. Arthur O’Neill, of Southbury, said Friday he is sending a letter to leaders of 45 state legislatures that don’t have a risk warrant law like Connecticut’s statute.
“I think we have a good standard as a model for the country,” said O’Neill, who estimates the law has saved “dozens, if not hundreds” of lives in Connecticut. “We’ve prevented situations, such as the one that occurred in Florida.”
But O’Neill said he’s concerned too many people, in Connecticut and elsewhere, don’t know about the law.
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California, Washington, Oregon and Indiana have similar laws, which allow authorities to remove firearms from people who pose imminent risks to themselves or others, he said. In Connecticut, an investigation by police or a prosecutor must determine that probable cause exists, indicating that a person poses such a risk and possesses one or more firearms. A judge can then sign off on a warrant, allowing guns and ammunition to be removed by police.
A 19-year-old man has been charged with killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday. The FBI said on Friday it had received a tip about his weapons and erratic behavior, including his disturbing social media posts. The tipster was concerned he could attack a school.
Connecticut’s law stems from a deadly workplace shooting at the state’s lottery headquarters in 1998 and has been on the books since 1999. It was in place at the time of the Newtown elementary school shooting massacre in 2012, when a young man fatally shot 20 first-graders and six educators.
The Connecticut Judicial Branch reports there were 178 warrants filed last year, affecting 177 people. The highest number was 184 warrants filed in 2013, affecting 178 people.
O’Neill said the Florida shooting “seems to be very, very similar to the kind of thing we were thinking of” when Connecticut adopted the law.
“There were people who were opposed. They were concerned about constitutional rights,” he said. “But this piece of legislation was very carefully crafted to protect constitutional rights of the individual who is the possessor of the firearms and at the same time provide us with a way to deal with the problem that is a real threat.”
Two years ago, advocates for domestic violence victims pushed for Connecticut legislation that bars people with temporary restraining orders against them from possessing firearms. Karen Jarmoc, chief executive officer of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said since that debate her group now trains advocates about the little-known risk warrant option as well. She said it’s a good tool that police can suggest to people with concerns about someone’s behavior.