Pink Flag Regulation Did not Stop Indianapolis Shooter.


INDIANAPOLIS – These are the rare gun laws that reach a bipartisan settlement – so-called red flag laws, which allow authorities to temporarily remove guns from anyone who has been declared too unstable by a judge to have them.

The case of Brandon Hole initially appeared to be exactly the situation these laws were intended to relate to. Indeed, in March last year, when Mr. Hole’s mother raised alarm about his mental state, the police seized a shotgun from his home. It was never returned.

A year later, police said, 19-year-old Hole shot and killed eight people in a FedEx facility before killing himself. He was using rifles that he had legally purchased shortly after that incident in March 2020.

Although many details are still unclear, the case of Mr Hole is a sobering example of how even states with widespread protective measures cannot prevent dangerous persons from obtaining firearms. The laws, experts say, are often only used as short-term solutions. In the days following the shooting, local officials struggled to explain how a man who was deemed too unstable by law enforcement to own a gun could legally buy it a month later.

“Any law is only as good as the people who enforce it,” said Brad Banks, a former Marion County attorney, which also includes Indianapolis, who is now in private practice. “Does it make sense that we took the gun away because he’s too dangerous to have one, but we didn’t take the step to prevent him from buying one the next day?

More than a dozen states, including Florida and New York, have red flag laws. Their terms vary widely; For example, in California, family members can directly request that firearms be temporarily confiscated from their loved ones. In Indiana, however, only law enforcement agencies can initiate this process in court.

Indiana law was named after Timothy Laird, a police officer who was shot dead on duty in 2004. It is one of the oldest of its kind in the country. It was passed almost unanimously by Republicans in 2005.

The law was particularly effective in reducing suicides. A study by Indiana University showed a 7.5 percent decrease in firearm-related suicides in the decade after the law was passed. In Indianapolis alone, more than 400 people were affected from 2006 to 2013, according to the study.

Under the law, a person is considered dangerous if they pose an “imminent risk” to themselves or others, or if they meet certain other criteria, including a documented propensity for violence.

In March 2020, on an appeal from the police department, Mr. Hole’s mother turned to officers telling them that she believed her son had suicidal thoughts and might even attempt “police suicide,” Indianapolis Metropolitan Police chief Randal Taylor to commit said on Sunday.

Jimmy Clark, 79, a retired auto service worker who lives across the street, remembered the situation. “He wanted the police to kill him,” said Mr. Clark, adding that Mr. Hole was an angry young man who always seemed to be “mad at the world”.

When the police got to the house, Mr. Hole’s mother asked him to come down, the boss said. “By the time he did that, they already felt they had enough information to carry out the necessary detention.”

Mr. Hole, who was 18 at the time, was admitted to hospital, according to Paul Keenan, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis office.

After a house official found out about a shotgun Mr. Hole recently bought, he went upstairs to take it, the boss said, and saw on the young man’s computer, “some things about some ideas of white supremacy and such things. Federal investigators would question Mr. Hole about these findings next month, although they would conclude that he did not harbor an ideology of “racially motivated violent extremism”.

The main concern at the time of the police visit, the chief said, were Mr. Hole’s comments “about killing yourself or possibly even allowing us to kill him”. And so the officers took the shotgun. It was never returned.

The confiscation of arms under red flag laws is often temporary. In Indiana, prosecutors have 14 days to justify the seizure in front of a judge once the police have taken a gun. If such a determination is not made, the firearms will be returned immediately. However, if the judge decides that the person concerned is so unstable that they are not allowed to have weapons, the police will hold onto the confiscated weapons and the person will not be allowed to have weapons for at least six months.

The permanent seizure of Mr Hole’s shotgun would therefore indicate that the prosecution had requested and received a red flag determination. But apparently this did not happen. “Whatever the reason,” said Chief Taylor, “it never made it to court.”

Chief Taylor said it is not for the police to make the decision whether to bring the case to court for a red flag hearing. Prosecutors “would receive a notification,” he said that police had taken a gun and that the owner had expressed thoughts of suicide. It would then be up to this office to act, he said. “In reality, he may have qualified, but that is a matter for the prosecution,” said Chief Taylor.

Ryan Mears, the Marion County attorney, said in an interview at a vigil on Saturday that he did not know what happened in the case. But he hypothetically suggested that the authorities might have taken the gun in response to requests from affected family members and believed the crisis had been resolved.

“What could have happened,” said Mr. Mears, “was the point,“ Let’s get the gun out of there and make sure the gun isn’t returned, ”if that was the deal that was made, and I’m not saying that this is the case. But there is no need to appear before the judge at this point because the point is that we want to take the gun away. “

Experts note that most red flag laws are primarily intended to address short-term, impending crises, said Aaron J. Kivisto, Indiana University professor of psychology who authored the statute study.

“Most suicides are pretty impulsive acts,” he said. “And if the person can survive the short-term crisis, there will be no suicide or murder.”

However, this would not explain how authorities legally detained the shotgun after 14 days. But the boss said Mr. Hole called once and said, “He didn’t want the guns back.”

“It’s not unusual,” said the boss. “People realize, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t have it. ‘They just say, “Let it go.” But I don’t know what his motivation was. “

Either way, Mr. Hole would buy two high-performance firearms within the next six or seven months, without qualifying the red flag.

For those who have studied the evolution of the red flag laws, Mr. Hole might turn out to be a tragic example of their shortcomings. In practice, experts say that containing more chronic threats like Mr. Hole in their current form may be beyond the reach of the law.

“Maybe it prevented something for a year or six months,” said Mr Kivisto. “And then it wasn’t enough.”

Robert Chiarito, Alison Saldanha and Brandon Dupré reported from Indianapolis.