Indiana’s red flag law is under scrutiny after a mass killing last week at an Indianapolis FedEx facility.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see the law’s shortcomings.
Under red flag laws — as of April 2020, 19 states and the District of Columbia had them — police or family can seek a court order to take guns away from an individual deemed a danger to himself or others. The court can also designate the person as having a violent propensity or emotionally unstable conduct with the intent of preventing future purchase of guns.
Indiana was second only to Connecticut to enact such legal safeguards.
But provisions of Indiana’s red flag law, enacted in 2005 after a mentally ill man fatally shot an Indianapolis police officer, add complexities to the process.
The law requires police to file an affidavit with the court within 48 hours after a warrant has been served. It also says courts must make a “good faith effort” to conduct a hearing within two weeks of confiscating any weapons.
Compliance with those timelines is unrealistic for overburdened police departments and courts with burgeoning dockets. Police investigation of the FedEx shooting lifted blinders to the law’s inadequacies.
On the night of April 15, 19-year-old Brandon Hole of Indianapolis drove to the FedEx plant near the airport on the city’s west side. The former employee emerged from his vehicle with two assault-type rifles and began shooting, killing four people outside the facility and four more inside before taking his own life.
Once the shooter was identified, law enforcement was able to confirm he had purchased the guns legally. But a troubling scenario emerged, leaving people to question whether Hole should have been able to buy the guns.
A police report from March 2020 shows that Hole’s mother summoned police over her concerns that he was a danger to himself. At the time, police took a pump-action shotgun away from the then-18-year-old.
But that’s where legal intervention ended.
Hole never appeared in court for a hearing under the state’s red flag law. Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said his office didn’t have enough time to make the case that Hole was a danger and shouldn’t be allowed to have a gun.
Indianapolis police never returned the shotgun to Hole, but because the case never went to court, he was able to buy the rifles used in the FedEx rampage.
Indiana’s red flag law was designed to prevent tragedies such as the Indianapolis mass shooting last week. Hole’s case should have gone before a judge a year earlier to determine whether he should have been allowed to buy a firearm if he was a threat to himself or others.
Red flags symbolize danger and the need to stop, but this time the warnings went unheeded, in part due to intrinsic flaws in the law. Lawmakers need to amend the law to set up a process that actually works.
This guest editorial originated with The News and Tribune of Jeffersonville, Indiana.