The number of firearms seized by police in New York from individuals deemed at risk of causing harm to themselves or others has surged dramatically in the past year, prompting some State Police barracks to reconfigure or expand evidence rooms to accommodate the influx of weapons.
This increase follows Governor Kathy Hochul’s executive order last year, which required troopers to file court applications for “extreme risk protection orders” (ERPO) whenever they encountered a potentially dangerous individual possessing a firearm. The “Red Flag Law” was enacted in 2019, but last year, Hochul also signed measures expanding who may file an ERPO petition to include healthcare practitioners who have examined the individual within the previous six months. Judges issued protection orders against 255 people across New York in 2020, while this year, in just over four months, that number exceeded 2,120. Between 2020 and last November, State Police seized 2,521 firearms under emergency protection orders.
The broader measures under the law have faced civil rights challenges, with some New York judges ruling the process unconstitutional. However, these rulings have not resulted in the law being struck down since they occurred in cases where neither State Police nor the state attorney general’s office were named parties in the litigation.
Attorneys representing those accused of being likely to cause serious harm and facing firearm seizures have argued that the process conflicts with state Mental Health Law. In order for the Red Flag Law to be struck down, a challenge in U.S. District Court may be required, with a person with proper standing to bring the action filing a petition against the State Police or state attorney general’s office. Meanwhile, other judges have upheld the constitutionality of the law, with cases typically revolving around the question of whether individuals posing a potential public safety threat should have their firearms seized by police through a court order.
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