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House Judiciary Committee considers red flag law

The House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing Wednesday for House Bill 265, which would allow a court to order law enforcement to seize a person’s guns if there is evidence that they are a danger to themselves or the community.

HB265 is sponsored by State Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham.

Coleman said the legislation creates a tool by which a family member, school officials or law enforcement can act if they believe that someone poses a danger.

Coleman said she is a member of the bipartisan group Americans State Legislature for Gun Violence Prevention.

“This is one of the issues that came up,” Coleman said. “This is model legislation that has passed in other states.”

“It is not a gun control bill, it is a gun safety bill,” Coleman continued.

Coleman said that she is a gun owner.

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Coleman said a family member, school officials or law enforcement member could petition a court to remove the guns from the home for a year. The judge would rule based on the preponderance of the evidence. A hearing would be held 14 days after the guns were seized. If the gun owner is unable to convince the court that the guns do not pose a threat the court can hold the guns for up to a year. At that time, the respondent could get their guns back, but they would have to pass an extensive background check and pay a fee for the cost of storing his or her weapons.

Coleman said that the fee would have to be paid by the respondents, not the petitioner.

Coleman also said in other states that have this the average respondent has seven guns in the home.

“We don’t allow the government to infringe on someone’s constitutional rights without clear and compelling evidence,” saidState Rep. Matt Fridy, R-Montevallo.

Fridy, who is an attorney, said that the preponderance of the evidence, “That is a very low standard for the state to step in and be depriving someone of their constitutional rights.”

“These orders have also been shown effective to prevent suicides,” Coleman said.

Fridy said, “The burden of proof should be on the state, not the citizen,” Fridy said.

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“This is a tool in the toolbox. 14 other states have passed this,” Coleman said.

State Rep. Alan Farley, R-McCalla, said he was concerned by the lack of due process.

“There will be a hearing 14 days after the guns are seized,” Coleman said.

Five members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense Alabama spoke in favor of the bill. No one came to the public hearing to speak in opposition to the bill.

Leantra Vaughn from Auburn said, “My husband and I are gun owners, and I am a victim of gun violence.”

“On New Years 1997, my mother took her parents’ gun and killed herself,” Vaughn said. “If Alabama had had a red flag law, I would have petitioned the court to have my grandparents guns seized and she would be alive today.”

“HB265 can prevent tragedies like this,” Vaughn said. “It can also prevent mass shootings like Parkland.”

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Vaughn said there are 59 deaths per day from suicide with guns.

“Red flags laws are a proven way to intervene before a firearms suicide or a mass shooting,” Karen McClure said.

McClure said after passing a red flag law in Indiana, gun suicides declined by 7.5 percent, and after Connecticut began enforcing their red flag law, gun suicides declined by 14.7 percent.

“Red flags can and do prevent mass shootings,” McClure said.

Due to the controversy with Fridy and other legislators about the level of proof needed to seize a citizen’s guns, Coleman requested that the bill be assigned to a subcommittee for them to work on it.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Hill, R-Odenville, agreed with Coleman, and the committee voted to refer the bill to a subcommittee.

The subcommittee will have to decide what changes to make, if any, before it can be brought back to the House Judiciary Committee for a vote.

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The bill to allow Alabama citizens to carry their guns concealed without a concealed carry permit, Senate Bill 4, was before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, as well. That was a heavily attended public hearing with law enforcement, the Alabama Sheriff’s Association and Moms Demand Action all opposed to the bill, while the National Rifle Association and BamaCarry both supported the bill.

SB4 is sponsored by State Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on SB4 next week.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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