Florida’s red flag gun law enforced haphazardly five years after Parkland massacre inspired legislation, research shows

red flag
red flag

By Noreen Marcus,

In 2018 Florida legislators — even the NRA posse — bowed to the urgent need for gun control after a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School: They passed minimal reforms including a red flag law.

The law sanctions a violence-prevention strategy that allows state court judges to temporarily take firearms away from people who show, through words or deeds, they’re dangerous to themselves or others.

Refusing to relinquish the firearms is a crime. Similar laws have been adopted in the District of Columbia and 19 other states; they’ve been proposed in 13 more.

“It’s a big deal,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said after then-Gov. Rick Scott signed the red flag bill into law. Once it’s activated, a mentally ill person “can’t run out and buy guns, acquire guns, because you’re prohibited from possessing, from owning or purchasing,” Gualtieri said.

But without effective enforcement, laws are just empty words. And numbers show that application of the red flag law is wildly inconsistent in Florida’s 67 counties.

Then Gov. Rick Scott and Bob Gualtieri in 2011

In some states family members can initiate the process, but Florida leaves it up to law enforcement.


Police must file court petitions to obtain risk-protection orders (RPOs). The petition can be challenged—if the firearms holder can afford a lawyer—before a judge either issues the order or rejects the petition.

Florida judges have signed thousands of these orders since March 2018. Overall, as of July 1, the total number of petitions was 9,391; fewer than 1 percent were denied, according to data from court clerks.

Periodically, the media feature stories about crises averted because of the red flag law: a young man posts on Facebook “I don’t know why I don’t go on a killing spree;” a couple shoot up their house while high on drugs; a man points a rifle at a motorcyclist. All were disarmed by the red flag law.

Leading gun control advocate Sen. Chris Murphy, D-CT, has called Florida’s reforms a model for the nation. Others note the gap between laws on the books and on the streets where they’re enforced–or not.

“The problem is that every Florida county can use the law or not use it, and I don’t think there’s any way for citizens to know what they’re doing,” said Barbara Markley, co-chair of the gun safety committee of the League of Women Voters’ Broward County chapter.

red flag
Barbara Markley

“I think this is an important and useful tool to prevent gun violence and people should know if sheriffs decide not to use it for political reasons,” she said.


You’d expect police in Miami-Dade County, with a population of about 2.7 million, to seek substantially more risk-protection orders than police in Polk County, the Lakeland-Winter Haven area, with a population of about 725,000.

Yet judges granted more than four times the number of RPO petitions in Polk (1,406) than in Miami-Dade (331) during the 51 months that ended July 1, according to the court clerks’ data.

The chart shows that Polk had the highest number of successful RPO petitions of any county in the state, 1,406. One county away, Osceola had 12.

In urban South Florida, the numbers were higher for Broward (949) and Palm Beach (498) counties than the 331 for Miami-Dade, the state’s most populous county.

Miami-Dade Police Director Alfredo Ramirez has not spoken out publicly about the red flag law, an internet search showed. The county’s public information office, which represents his department, didn’t respond to Florida Bulldog’s emailed request for comment.

Miami-Dade Police Director Alfredo Ramirez

In neighboring Broward County, police may be inclined to apply the red flag law aggressively because Parkland survivors and their supporters lobbied fiercely for gun reform. Following the tragic events of Feb. 14, 2018, they’ve become a political force to be reckoned with at the local, state and national levels.


The law’s erratic statewide track record is hard to understand. Some sheriffs and police chiefs say they appreciate risk-protection orders, while others seem to think they interfere with gun rights; or, for whatever reason, police may not prioritize asking judges for the orders.

Markley sees this selective enforcement as a problem.

“I don’t think sheriffs should be able to pick and choose what laws they’re gonna enforce,” she said. “They took an oath when they took office to uphold the law. How do you get to decide which ones to enforce? It’s not up to you.”

Sheriffs in Polk and Pinellas, the counties with the most risk-protection orders, praise  and defend the red flag law.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, a self-described “Second Amendment guy,” said the order sets “a cooling off period” for people who might otherwise act out violently. It allows deputies to focus on crime prevention instead of having to react “too late” to an active shooter, he told CNN.


Pinellas Sheriff Gualtieri, who led an investigation into the Parkland tragedy, has said a risk-protection order might have prevented shooter Nikolas Cruz from carrying out his rampage. Cruz was sentenced to life in prison for murdering 17 students and faculty and wounding 17 others.

“We have needed this law for decades,” Gualtieri told The Associated Press in 2020. His department’s specialized red flag unit obtained the second-highest number of risk-protection orders in the state: 1,245.

Bills proposed in advance of the upcoming legislative session include a measure that would allow family members to file red flag petitions.

“This life-saving tool has already been proven to be highly effective. Expanding its scope of use will empower people to take action when they see the early warning signs of potentially dangerous behavior,” state Rep. Kelly Skidmore said in a news release when she filed her bill in December. Her fellow Palm Beach County Democrat, state Sen. Lori Berman, filed an identical bill in the Senate.

Markley said she supports the proposal because “you’re able to use the law in a better way. Family members are the ones who know who’s in trouble. They can blow the whistle.”

But she predicts all of the gun reform energy will be deployed against a bill backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that would enlarge the right to bear concealed weapons, something the governor calls “constitutional carry.” In its final form, the bill may or may not require background checks.

This session, Markley said, “I don’t think anything sane has a chance of passage.”

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Latest comments

  • “I don’t think sheriffs should be able to pick and choose what laws they’re gonna enforce,” she (Markley) said. “They took an oath when they took office to uphold the law. How do you get to decide which ones to enforce? It’s not up to you.”

    Choosing not to seek a RPO is not failure or refusal to enforce a law. The RPO law doesn’t say that law enforcement MUST seek an RPO when X, Y, and Z are alleged, it says they MAY seek an RPO from a judge. Should a judge issue a RPO and law enforcement fails to act on it, that would be non-enforcement.

  • Does someone have to lose a loved one to gun violence before their eyes are opened? How can FloriDUH even consider allowing anyone to carry a concealed weapon without a THOROUGH background check, firearm training, and a permit? We have lost sight of “the well trained Militia” in favor of “Stand your ground.” If the purpose of government is to protect its citizens, we are far, far, afield. We are giving our children almost unfettered access to an amazing array of weaponry.

  • The Parkland HS killer was protected and his troubled mental health issues were in fact covered up by multiple Florida law enforcement agencies, and the Broward County School Board, and the Department of Children and Families. They were all following Obamas guidelines to keep juvinile criminals out of the justice system. All the warning signs were there that Nick Cruz should have been placed in sequestration under Floridas Baker Act at minimum. At maximum Cruz should have been convicted of his earlier crimes which would have precluded his ability to buy firearms. But Cruz was protected by those who should have been protecting his victims. Obama liberalism is what kept Cruz out of jail for his earlier crimes. And enabled Cruz to kill his classmates.

    Red Flag laws are a dangerous precedent, ignoring due process and the Constitional rights of those accused of unusual behaviors by others untrained in psychology or those with a vendetta against others. Red Flag laws are modeled after Stalins laws. It goes like this. Accuse someone of being deranged, confiscate their property, and throw them in prison.

    It was Democrats that forced the closing of public mental hospitals in America. Fifty years ago every state had asylums for the mentally ill. Today the mentally ill live on the streets, commit many crimes, and are imprisoned without getting the treatments the mentally ill require. Had Nick Cruz been born decades earlier he would have lived in an asylum for the mentally ill, and kept from hurting himself, others, and animals. And he would have never been permitted to possess a gun if institutionalized.

    My rights to possess arms without paying government permit fees and submitting fingerprints begin the minute I am born into America. Today a century of gun laws that restrict ones 2nd Amendment rights are finally being overturned and removed. The Supreme Court has seen the light. I applaud the Governors position on ending Floridas firearms licensing sceme to carry a concealed firearm. Remember that criminals are already carrying guns, and they are never restrained by gun laws or any laws for that matter.

    Local Communist Jim Defede hosted a clown woman from Parkland who sits on the Florida Legislature. The topic was Floridas gun laws and the lifting of the licensing scheme for conceal carry. Everything this clown woman said was untrue and pure theatrics, fear mongering that background checks to own guns will go away and if drivers get licenses so should gun owners. Well how many criminals carry guns and drive cars without licenses now ? Laws only restrict the law abiding. And the Constitution says nothing about “the right to own cars shall not be infringed. “

    For 20 years I have carried a weapon everywhere concealed. I carry a gun because I cant carry a cop. And it payed off as I was once assaulted by a larger person, and the drawing of my weapon and aiming at his chest instantly stopped his advances. Stand your ground laws work.

    Those lawmakers that work to deny me my 2nd Amendment rights see individual liberties as threatening to them. Because the basis for the 2nd amendment was not for hunting or target practice. Not at all. It was to give Americans the rights and tools to fight government tyranny, and to protect their liberties from a government that turns against the Constitution.

    Look at the states with the most restrictive gun laws and you will find states with the highest crime levels. You will also find those are the most liberal states with weak prosecution rates for crimes, most liberal drug laws, and high rates of socialist lawmakers. California is noteworthy for this.

  • Does “…shall not be infringed.” have any meaning at all to Florida? What about the 4ths “unreasonable searches and seizures” or the 5ths “right to due process”? Words are NOT violence. A RIGHT is a given, period. No training, however wise, is necessary to exercise it. Open your eyes and see the tyranny in this. Your ability to defend yourself from the government cake be taken away without any hearing in that matter based on innocuous speech made in passing. If someone is an immediate, legitimate danger the police can be called and they can question that individual or arrest them if necessary. To do otherwise suppresses free speech, however discomfiting it may be, and renders significant parts of your constitutional rights null and void.

  • “Shall not be infringed” is preceded by a “well-regulated militia.” This is cherry-picking, just like sheriffs and DAs do all the time.

    Of course, when. you’re the Big Dog, you get to decide who is cherry-picking and who is not. DeSantist can do it; SA Warren was fired.

  • My guns were seized (including a pistol brace AR) and CCL revoked under this law and it’s been extremely unfair, there is NO due process the 14 day hearing is a sham and the judges usually keep your guns for two years instead of one. I never threatened to shoot up a school and I don’t have any mental illness. This is just the first step to take guns from law abiding citizens!!!

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