In hindsight, it’s easy to say Indiana’s red flag law should have been invoked to prevent Brandon Scott Hole from purchasing the two rifles he used to open fire at a FedEx Ground facility and kill eight people.
But the circumstances that led Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears to decide against asking a court to invoke the law aren’t that simple and need to be addressed to do more to keep guns out of the hands of violent or mentally unstable people.
The law passed in 2005 after a man who had been previously placed on emergency hospital detention shot and killed Indianapolis officer Jake Laird. After the man’s initial detention, police removed a number of weapons from his house but had to return them because no law was in place to keep the weapons out of the man’s possession.
The 2005 law allowed authorities to confiscate guns and prohibit future gun purchases for a period of time if the person was a risk to himself or others.
It sounds like the perfect law to prevent Hole from possessing the guns. After all, in March 2020, police had visited his home to seize a pump-action shotgun after his mother reported that she feared he would attempt to commit “suicide by cop.” But, the law was amended in 2019 in a way that makes the process more complicated.
Some changes toughened the law by making it a misdemeanor for a person deemed dangerous to buy or possess a gun and a felony for anyone to give or sell a gun to a dangerous person.
But other changes require courts to make a “good-faith effort” to hold a hearing within 14 days to determine whether a person should have access to guns, the AP reported. An additional amendment requires an affidavit to be filed within 48 hours.
Mears said two weeks wasn’t enough time to subpoena medical records and prove Hole’s propensity for suicidal thoughts, something he said they would need to persuade a judge Hole should not be allowed to possess a gun.
After the seizure of Hole’s rifle in March 2020, Hole was immediately released from the hospital, not civilly committed for psychological treatment and not prescribed any additional medication, Mears noted.
Ultimately, Mears said, authorities were able to remove the most immediate threat, one rifle, from Hole. If Mears had pursued a red flag ruling against Hole and lost, that one rifle would have had to be returned.
Still, the bigger threat—Hole’s purchase of more high-powered rifles—wasn’t stopped. Authorities said Hole would go on to purchase an HM Defense HM15F in July and a Ruger AR-556 in September, weapons he used in last week’s deadly shootings.
Mears had an opportunity to ask a judge to stop Hole’s future gun purchases, no matter how slim his chances might have been of proving his case. If he had, the judge might have ruled in the prosecutor’s favor—or become the focus of the increasing scrutiny over Indiana’s imperfect red flag law.
Now is the time to fix those imperfections to reduce the hesitancy of any prosecutor considering the law’s use.
Indiana, and particularly the FedEx victims and their families, deserve a law that makes sure authorities have the time and tools they need to keep firearms out of the hands of unstable people with a propensity for violence.•
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