NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Indiana among ‘Red Flag law’ pioneers

The alleged Parkland, Fla., school shooter exhibited warning signs leading up to the massacre that killed 17 people and wounded at least 15 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday.

Many are now asking why those red flags didn’t keep 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz from possessing the AR-15 assault weapon he is accused of using to mow down students and coaches at the school he used to attend.

News reports say Cruz had been expelled from the school, fought with classmates, had a fascination with weapons and hurting animals, posted disturbing images and comments to social media and had previous mental health treatments. In Indiana and four other states, that would have been enough to prevent Cruz from possessing a firearm. But not in Florida.

“This morning I heard the sheriff (in Parkland) lament the fact that he did not have the tools to remove the firearms from the shooter,” Joshua Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, told The Washington Post on Thursday. “Had he lived in one of those states where this law is in place, he would have had the tools, and this shooting may have been averted.”

Along with Indiana, California, Washington, Oregon and Connecticut have passed “red flag laws” that allow family members, guardians or police to ask judges to temporarily take guns away from those deemed a threat to themselves or others.

Mental illness, escalating threats, substance abuse and domestic violence are among the considerations a judge can use to order weapon restrictions under those laws. The red flag laws make it possible to seize guns from people who have them and to keep those guns away from them until they are no longer deemed dangerous.

Similar measures have been proposed in 18 other states plus the District of Columbia. Florida is one of them — but too late for those gunned down in what should have been the safety of their high school.

According to the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, a nationwide study 2009-16 showed that in at least 42 percent of mass shootings there is documentation that the attacker exhibited dangerous warning signs beforehand.

Our citizens are calling for action as yet another mass killing has scarred the nation.

Red flag laws are at least one step in the right direction, and we hope Florida and other states get this statute on the books.

“We don’t have a perfect system in this country, and we can’t stop every act of gun violence,” Everytown deputy legal director Jonas Oransky told The Washington Post. “This is a way for states to take some care and be somewhat nimble when there is a dangerous case.”