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Red-flag law in Maryland led to gun seizures from 148 people in first three months

Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-Prince George’s) briefs Maryland lawmakers about initial implementation of the red-flag law. Montgomery County Sheriff]Darren M. Popkin is seated second to her right. (Brian Witte/AP)

Maryland courts have seized guns from 148 people in the three months since the state enacted a law designed to take weapons from people who are danger to themselves or others.

Four of the gun owners posed “significant threats” to schools, an official told state lawmakers Tuesday.

Montgomery County Sheriff Darren M. Popkin (D), who has helped train police officers across the state about the “red-flag” law, said he could not provide details about the gun seizures — including those that could have led to school shootings — because of a confidentiality rule.

But, Popkin told the House Judiciary Committee, “these orders . . . are saving lives.”

Maryland is one of at least nine states, including California, Connecticut and Delaware, that allow a relative, spouse, legal guardian or roommate to seek a court order to keep a person from possessing a gun.

Dozens of other states in the past two years have considered red-flag bills, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The D.C. Council approved a similar law last month.

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Between Oct. 1, when the law took effect, and Dec. 31, Maryland courts received more than 302 requests to take guns from a person in “crisis,” Popkin said. Just under half of those individuals were ordered to turn over their guns and barred from possessing or buying a gun for a year.

Officials did not give a total for the number of guns taken.

Popkin said the average of 100 petitions a month is higher than the rate in other states that have enacted similar legislation.

“Today’s briefing should be extremely encouraging to the people of Maryland that we have enacted . . . something that has proven itself to work, has proven itself to save lives and proven itself to be constitutionally sufficient . . . to begin to curb the epidemic we have with gun violence,” said Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-Prince George’s), the bill’s lead sponsor.

Popkin told the panel that 60 percent of the petitions came from a family or household member with “specific knowledge” about the person who had access to a gun. One petition came from a health-care worker, and the rest were initiated by law enforcement, he said.

The briefing, which included Popkin, Chief Judge John P. Morrissey of the Maryland District Court and a gun-control advocate, was intended to update lawmakers on the legislation and head off any effort to weaken the law.

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“We wanted to educate the new members but also to allow the public to see that in the first three months, the process is working well, before we contemplate making any changes,” Valentino-Smith said.

During the debate last year, several Republican lawmakers questioned whether the bill could pose a threat to the Second Amendment. It was amended in the Senate to limit who can petition for a court order. Under the legislation, those who are not direct family members or other authorized petitioners can work with police to initiate a court order.