Sheriff: Maryland's 'red flag' law prompted gun seizures after four 'significant threats' against schools

Maryland’s judiciary fielded 302 requests to remove firearms from individuals over the first three months of the state’s “red flag” gun safety law — including five cases involving threats against schools.

“These orders are not only being issued appropriately; they are saving lives,” Montgomery County Sheriff Darren Popkin, a leader in the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association who helped develop the law, testified Tuesday before the House of Delegates’ Judiciary Committee.


“It’s averaging a little over 100 a month,” Popkin said. “This is by far more orders than has been seen in any other state. … We are one of the only states that allows for this to be issued 24 hours a day.”

Popkin said he could not provide details about the cases, but said five involved schools and four concerned “significant threats” against schools. “Firearms were seized in each one of those cases,” he said.


Popkin said he was not aware of any illegally owned guns that were seized.

“The majority of people we’ve served have had some nexus to some sort of mental health breakdown,” he said.

The 302 requests were for guns to be temporarily removed from Marylanders after an officer, family member or health professional raised concerns to the courts.

In 148 cases, Maryland district judges granted a final order — meaning police do not immediately return the seized guns, and the subjects could be prohibited from buying or possessing other firearms for up to a year.

John P. Morrissey, the chief judge of the District Court of Maryland, told the committee that family members often report a loved one who is having mental health problems resulting in the seizure of guns. After the subject receives treatment or medication, the guns are returned.

Sometimes, Morrissey said, relatives “really just want them taken to the hospital and get them medicated.”

“The people are fine once they’re on their meds, for all practical purposes,” the judge said. “But when they’re not on their meds, they’re not in control of themselves.”

Law enforcement officers requested 133 of the orders, while the rest came from other sources, such as spouses and other relatives, data show.


Popkin noted final orders were issued in about half of the cases. The rest of the cases were generally denied or dismissed. He said that shows judges are properly providing gun owners with due process. Members of the committee, which is overseeing the implementation of the law, asked Popkin for more information about the cases for which final orders were denied to see whether there are other issues that need to be addressed with new legislation.

Maryland was among eight states to pass “red flag” legislation in the aftermath of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting that killed 17 people in February.

Maryland’s law enables law enforcement officials, certain family members, intimate partners and mental health providers, among others, to request the temporary removal of guns through “extreme risk protective orders” from people who pose an immediate danger of causing personal injury.

Maryland’s law allows court commissioners — who are not judges — to grant interim orders 24 hours a day. Acting when the courts weren’t open, court commissioners granted interim orders in 163 of the 302 requests.

District judges granted 139 temporary orders. Both interim and temporary orders require individuals to surrender firearms for several days until a final hearing.

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“There is nothing more contentious than the debate about the right to bear arms and what that entails,” Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith, a Prince George’s County Democrat who has pushed to reduce gun violence, told the committee. “But in Maryland, we took that head-on and understood there was an increasing consensus that those who are a danger to themselves or others should have a temporary ‘timeout’ from their gun ownership.”


“Red flag” requests were among the highest in jurisdictions that experienced deadly mass shootings in the past year, Popkin said.

There were 47 requests in Anne Arundel, which had the shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper office on June 28 that killed five staff members. Harford County, which had a mass shooting at a Rite Aid warehouse Sept. 20 that killed four people, had 33 requests.

Baltimore County recorded 41 red flag requests, Prince George’s County had 33, and the city of Baltimore had 11.

Serving “red flag” orders has resulted in one deadly confrontation. In November, Anne Arundel County police officers serving an order to remove guns from a house killed Gary J. Willis, 61, of Ferndale after he refused to give up his gun. Police said a struggle ensued between Willis and one officer, Willis fired his gun and another officer shot Willis.