RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — In a city where at least 104 people have been shot dead over the last year and a half, a potentially life-saving law – now two years old – has not been used once.
Virginia’s ‘red flag law,’ as it is commonly known, allows someone to petition a judge to have someone’s firearms seized if they present a threat to themselves or others; it would also prevent them from being able to purchase a gun.
Gun rights groups have opposed similar legislation in states that have proposed and passed emergency gun seizure laws, claiming it infringes on Second Amendment rights.
The law has been used over 250 times statewide since it became effective in July 2020, yet Richmond has not seen a single judicial order, and the city’s top prosecutor said she’s not aware of anyone even seeking one from a judge.
“I was really surprised to see that there had been none,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin during an interview with 8News Wednesday.
“I think there are reasons for that,” McEachin said, citing someone’s potential reluctance to call authorities on a relative, and the fear of law enforcement presence may escalate a situation, the confidence someone can “handle it” and a lack of general knowledge the law exists.
When asked what her office has done to promote knowledge of the law, McEachin responded, “honestly, nothing,” and went a step further to say her office should and will do more to inform the public. McEachin added she believed initial interest in the law would hold, and therefore spread.
The dichotomy between urban Richmond and nearby, rural, Hanover County when it comes to ‘red flag’ orders is glaring. Hanover County has issued at least 25 court orders for gun seizure since 2020; one of five Virginia municipalities, which accounts for more than half of all statewide orders.
Hanover has significantly fewer shootings than Richmond, and McEachin said part of the challenge is that bullets fly far more randomly in the capital city, meaning there is typically less time for someone to recognize a threat and call the police to have the guns potentially seized.
“They’re crimes of impulse,” McEachin said, providing circumstantial examples like, ‘this person made me mad,’ ‘I got thrown out of the club,’ ‘my girlfriend took the kids,’ ‘I want to rob this person.’”
In Hanover County, where more than two dozen ‘red flag’ orders have been issued, Commonwealth’s Attorney Trip Chalkley told 8News the orders have primarily been issued after a loved one reported a relative threatened to end their own life or somebody else’s.
Chalkley described the people the orders are issued upon as, “Mostly people that are frustrated and down at the moment,” and “people that have made foolish statements [ at the time].”