By BRIAN WITTE , Associated Press
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A new Maryland law that allows courts to temporarily restrict firearms access for people at risk to themselves or others resulted in more than 300 protective orders, five of which were related to schools, the sheriff of the state’s most populous county told lawmakers Tuesday.
Montgomery County Sheriff Darren Popkin told a panel of state lawmakers that 302 orders were sought under the state’s “red flag” law in the first three months since the law took effect Oct. 1. He said five of them related to schools, and four of those five “were significant threats.”
“Because of the confidentiality that’s built into this piece of legislation, I can’t get into details of any of those, however, I will tell you that they were significant and firearms were seized in each one of those cases, and it was good that these orders were not only sought, but issued and served in each one of those cases,” Popkin told the Maryland House Judiciary Committee.
Maryland was one of eight states that passed “red flag” legislation last year in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, shooting that killed 17 in February. Five states already had similar laws. The 13 states with “red flag” laws are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
Popkin said a majority of the orders in Maryland involved people who had “some nexus to some sort of mental health breakdown.”
“The majority of these cases we have seen somewhat of a crisis situation, some sort of acute mental illness,” Popkin said.
Maryland also has had more requests so far for orders than other states with similar laws, Popkin said. He attributed the higher number to the ease in which someone can request an order “because we are one of the only states that allows for this to be issued 24 hours a day,” and someone can go to a court commissioner to get an interim order.
Popkin also said Maryland is unusual compared to other states with similar laws, because a majority of petitions have been sought by family members, rather than law enforcement. He said only 44 percent of the petitions were sought be law enforcement in Maryland.
“The majority of them … have actually been a family member or household member that has specific knowledge and is concerned about the health and welfare of their family,” he said.
Parts of Maryland where mass shootings have happened had higher numbers of petitions sought than other parts of the state. Anne Arundel County, where five people were killed in a shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper in June, had 47 petitions initiated — the highest in the state. Harford Counties also was near the top, with 33 petitions sought. In September, a woman gunned down three co-workers at a Maryland warehouse in the county before she turned the gun on herself.
“People are aware. That may be the reason,” Popkin said, adding that in California jurisdictions that experienced shootings with multiple victims also have higher numbers of petitions.
Popkin also said he believes due process safeguards included in Maryland’s law are working. He noted that of the 302 petitions sought, less than half reached a final stage in which someone could not have a gun for at least a year.