Fairfax Co. promotes red flag law to keep guns away from those deemed dangerous

Close up of old semi auto pistol(Getty Images/iStockphoto/Josiah S)

Despite some calls to repeal it, officials in Fairfax County, Virginia, said Monday that the county’s “red flag law” is an important tool in taking guns away from those deemed a risk to themselves or others.

“Guns and domestic violence do not mix,” said James Walkinshaw, Braddock District supervisor on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

He said a victim of domestic violence whose abuser has access to a firearm is five times more likely to be murdered.

“Firearms contribute to domestic violence. They significantly increase the lethality of domestic violence situations,” Walkinshaw said.

The law takes guns out of the hands of those determined to be a risk to themselves or others, as well as prevents them from buying a gun. An emergency substantial risk court order lasts 14 days, while a permanent substantial risk order is a more involved process and can be extended for 180 days at a time indefinitely.

Since July 2020, when the law went into effect, Fairfax County has issued 34 emergency and 18 substantial risk orders.

“Some in Richmond have expressed a willingness to repeal these red flag laws,” said Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano. “We cannot let that happen. It is too important.”

Officials during the event on Monday spoke about the various uses of the law, including for victims of domestic violence as well as those suffering from mental illness.

Belinda Massaro, mobile crisis unit manager for the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, said suicide is the leading cause of death in the United States, and firearms are the most common method of death by suicide.

“This law can be a public health, life-saving tool to prevent gun tragedies,” Massaro said. “It temporarily restricts access to guns for individuals who are at a higher risk of harming themselves or others. Family members are often in the best position to identify a crisis situation and know when their loved one could be at risk of harming themselves or others.”

She said that an individual history of mental illness or a specific diagnosis is not a good predictor of violence.

Massaro added that 4% of violent acts in the United States are associated with serious mental illness and that those with mental illness are more often victims of violence than perpetrators of violence.

“Studies have shown that people with mental illness are 23 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than others.”

Descano said the red flag law is crucial for authorities to limit firearms ending up in the hands of someone who is violent.

He also said it provides procedural safeguards to ensure that no firearm is removed without due process.

“It is a critical tool for my office and our partners in law enforcement to disrupt and prevent potential gun violence,” Descano said. “To anyone listening, I would say the big takeaway is if you know someone with a gun, acting in a way that concerns you, please speak up. Help us prevent another gun tragedy.”

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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