At first glance, I am the quintessential “good girl with a gun” that the pro-gun lobby loves to cite as the reason why we do not need stronger gun laws in this country. Law enforcement. Gun owner. Woman. White. Here’s the problem: the “good guy/girl with a gun” trope is misguided.
The reality is that the possession of guns often has the opposite effect: violent crime increases, the homicide rate rises and gun-carrying civilians are more likely to have their own guns used against them. Gun violence is a public health epidemic in this country. Nowhere is that more evident than right here in Minnesota where four out of every five firearm deaths are suicides.
That is why, as a sworn police officer working in the Twin Cities, I support the passage of a red flag law in Minnesota. Such a bill was approved by the House of Representatives this week and now awaits action in the Senate.
In Minnesota, the current proposed red flag law would authorize law enforcement officers or city/county attorneys to petition a court for an extreme risk protection order to remove firearms from those deemed to pose a “significant danger of bodily injury to self or others by possessing a firearm.” What this means is that those of us in law enforcement must present evidence in a court hearing as to why this person should temporarily lose access to their firearms. This is not a gun confiscation law, nor is it a stripping of one’s Second Amendment rights.
The proposed red flag law requires that this Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) be issued for a minimum of six months but not longer than two years.
In the wake of the Parkland, Fla. mass shooting, states throughout the country have passed these red flag laws; 17 states and the District of Columbia currently have these extreme risk protection laws on the books. Recently conducted polling shows these laws enjoy widespread bipartisan support; 70% of Americans support law enforcement-initiated red flag petitions. States have used their red flag laws to remove guns in situations of domestic violence, risk of mass violence and in reducing the risk of suicide.
In Colorado, Denver police used their new red flag law one day after it went into effect on Jan. 1 to remove firearms in a domestic abuse case. Every month, an estimated 52 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner. These red flag laws are critical to keeping women safe at a time when intimate partner violence is on the rise.
In Minnesota, the suicide rate has been climbing for years. Every 12 hours a Minnesotan dies by suicide. White men account for 7 out of every 10 suicides in this state, with white men over the age of 45 completing the highest rates of suicide. Having access to a firearm triples a person’s risk of suicide and increases the lethality of attempts. This hits home for those of us in the law enforcement community who are exposed to trauma on a daily basis as part of our job and have ready access to firearms. We saw this on Nov. 7, 2019, when two police officers in the Twin Cities metro died by suicide.
Throughout my career, I have responded to shootings, attempted suicides and completed suicides. What has struck me most is the increased lethality in suicide attempts involving guns. All of the completed suicides I have responded to involved the use of a firearm and were cases where a red flag law would have been helpful in potentially reducing the lethality of the crisis in that moment.
There is no simple solution to fixing our public health crisis surrounding guns. There certainly is not one law that is the answer to stemming our escalating suicide rate. Despite this, we must start somewhere.
The answer is not to dig in our heels and establish “Second Amendment Sanctuary” cities while failing to find common ground in the Legislature. We have to move beyond the partisan rhetoric and address our public health crisis in this state involving guns. The first step to doing this is by passing a red flag law that enjoys bipartisan support among Americans and has proved time and again over the past several years that it works.
Colleen Ryan is a sworn police officer working in the Twin Cities and a member of Protect Minnesota’s 501(c)(4) board of directors. Views expressed here belong solely to the author and do not reflect those of the author’s employer.