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Gun Violence Protective Orders See Renewed Interest After Florida Shooting


Among the ideas generating new interest are gun risk protection orders, legislation that would allow authorities to take guns away from people who are believed to be at risk for violent behavior like the gunman in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas school. NPR's Martin Kaste has more.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: The morning after the shooting in Parkland, Governor Scott was promising that something would be done or at least talked about.


RICK SCOTT: Next week in Tallahassee, I'm going to sit down with state leaders. We're going to have a real conversation about two things.

KASTE: And this is one of the things he wants to talk about.


SCOTT: How do we make sure that individuals with mental illness do not touch a gun?

KASTE: It's unusual to hear talk of restricting access to guns from a Republican governor, especially in Florida. Gun restriction bills are not usually very successful in the state legislature.

JOSEPH GELLER: They don't even get a hearing.

KASTE: That's Joseph Geller, a Democratic member of the Florida House who represents an area very close to the scene of the shooting. He's talking about his recent attempts to pass things like limits on the size of ammunition magazines.

GELLER: It's not like, you know, the climate is hostile, that the debate is hostile. They're simply not even scheduled for hearing. It just dies a quiet death.

KASTE: But now there may be some hope for one of the bills he's sponsored - a gun risk protection order. This is a relatively new concept. There are already laws on the books that bar felons and domestic abusers from having guns, but this would be a way for family members to ask police and courts to temporarily take a gun away from someone who seems intent on violence or suicide but hasn't actually done anything yet. Shannon Watts is founder of the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

SHANNON WATTS: This is a very common sense way to alert the community when someone may commit a horrific shooting and to temporarily remove someone's guns until they can assess whether this person is a danger.

KASTE: Gun control groups have embraced this idea of gun risk protection orders, and they're doing an end run around the NRA's influence in Congress by trying to get these orders passed in the states. This may also be a way for them to call the gun lobby's bluff as it tries to change the subject to mental illness. Shannon Watts again.

WATTS: I don't disagree. I mean, that certainly isn't part of our strategy. The strategy is simply to create laws that keep people and communities safer. But I think the issue is that they've talked out of so many sides of their mouth that it's - eventually that comes around to bite you.

KASTE: The NRA opposes gun risk protection orders, but it appears to have opted for a strategy of nonengagement on this issue. The national office didn't respond to NPR's request for an interview. And when we called the main gun lobbyist in the Florida state Capitol, Marion Hammer, she said she wasn't taking any media calls and hung up. In private, gun rights activists worry that these protection orders could become a slippery slope, eroding constitutional rights. And on that, they have some sympathy even from some of their opponents such as Vermont attorney Peter Langrock.

PETER LANGROCK: That's the type of thing I would be concerned about - that we just overstep the warrant requirements, the search and seizure requirements and also that we start punishing speech. At what level does a statement become dangerous?

KASTE: At the annual meeting of the American Bar Association, Langrock opposed a resolution that called for these gun protection orders not because he likes the NRA. He definitely doesn't.

LANGROCK: I don't want to see legislation which just is a feel-good legislation which steps on people's rights and which accomplishes nothing.

KASTE: Does this legislation really accomplish nothing? In the states that have recently passed the orders, it's too early to say if they've had a measurable effect on murders and suicides. In 2016 in California, the protective orders were used 86 times. That's a relatively small number for a state that big. But Nancy Skinner, the state legislator who pushed the bill through, says 86 is not nothing.

NANCY SKINNER: I was very impressed that it had been used and that - I felt confident then that in each of those incidents we likely saved a life or multiple lives.

KASTE: Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.