Federal gun law said to be a victory, but can it be enforced?

Published: Jun. 27, 2022 at 7:18 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The bipartisan Safer Communities Act was signed by President Joe Biden Saturday morning, and it’s being called one of the most sweeping gun laws in 30 years.

Parts of the bill include expanding background checks for gun buyers aged 18-21 and giving law enforcement up to 10 business days to evaluate mental health records before allowing the purchase to go through.

The bill also adds to red flag laws.

Law enforcement can now temporarily confiscate guns from a person deemed dangerous by a judge.

When asked what the threshold is that determines if a person is “dangerous,” Judge Chris Craft with Shelby County Criminal Court said the danger is determined by probable cause.

“There has to be a reason,” Craft said. “Maybe they’re threatening people. There are pending violent charges. The judge will look at the warrant and all the facts in the warrant, and if they determine if the person is a danger, then they can ask that the gun be seized.”

The new law comes just several weeks after the Uvalde, TX massacre, where an 18-year-old shooter killed 21 people at Robb Elementary.

The shooter had posted several questionable posts on Facebook, but under previous law, those posts weren’t enough to justify a warrant.

Now, it’s enough for probable cause.

“It’s obviously against the law to go on a school’s grounds with a gun,” Craft said. “Suppose you have someone at school, say he’s in the 10th grade. He says ‘I’m going to come back tomorrow and I’m going to shoot everybody.’ Well, now under this new law, (law enforcement) would have a right to go to that man’s house and take his parents’ guns to make sure that he’s going to stay away from them because he’s a threat.”

Craft said in the past, weapons couldn’t be temporarily confiscated in non-marriage relationships, where one partner accuses the other of domestic violence, which has commonly been referred to as the boyfriend loophole.

With this new law, that loophole is effectively closed.

Now, if a relationship partner accuses the other partner of domestic violence and probable cause is found, that accused partner has their guns temporarily confiscated until their day in court.

“(The accused) has the right to a hearing, and if the judge finds out there’s actually no credible threat, then obviously they’ll get their property back,” Craft said. “The warrant is basically there to seize the gun in the meantime so that nobody is hurt.”

“I think that it is a stepping stone in the right direction, but it’s definitely going to be up to the courts and also law enforcement entities to put things in place, to put teeth with it,” said Phillis Lewis, CEO of Love Doesn’t Hurt.

Lewis’s group, in part, assists victims of domestic and sexual violence, particularly in the LGBTQ community.

To her, this bill is cheap talk, hoping that in the near future more language comes from the local level on how this law can help prevent threats from turning into gun violence.

“If you just have the language and the words but there aren’t things being put in place in order to inform the bills properly, then it’s not going to make the impact that it needs to make,” she said.

Both agree that the bill is good in theory.

Craft says that it gives judges and law enforcement more tools to address potential threats, but in the end, it’s the judges’ responsibility to make sure warrants are carefully interpreted to ensure people “don’t go overboard and just take everyone’s guns.”

“It doesn’t hurt the people who use the guns legally and defend themselves, but it hurts those people who should not have guns and are ordered not to have guns, who are extremely dangerous.”

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