Other View: Lagging flags: Opportunities to flag Buffalo shooter came and went

None of the red flags appear to have been raised to the authorities, at least not high enough for them to seek an order preventing his purchase of a semi-automatic rifle.

Police on scene at a Tops Friendly Market on Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Buffalo, New York.
John Normile/Getty Images/TNS
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An unseen flag signifies nothing: Ships at sea don’t hoist their flags below deck. The same rule applies, or should, to the red flags codified by New York’s Extreme Risk Protection Order law, whereby people, including teachers and family members, can petition a court to signal law enforcement and firearm sellers that an individual may well pose a serious danger if allowed a gun.

The racist killer who cut down 10 lives in a Buffalo supermarket exhibited a number of red flags — a threat to commit mass murder at his school, an obsession with firearms, and a violent strain of anti-Black hostility.

None appear to have been raised to the authorities, at least not high enough for them to seek an order preventing his purchase of the Bushmaster XM-15 semi-automatic rifle. Indeed, since the law’s 2019 enactment, the shooter’s home of Broome County has issued just 24 temporary and final orders of protection, about half the per-capita rate of nearby Onondaga County. (While we’re on the subject, why was an 18-year-old able to buy a gun, much less a high-powered one? Raise the age to 21.)

Authorities missed a second chance to save lives when the shooter was briefly held for a mental health evaluation after making that first threat of violence. A provision in the 2013 SAFE Act requires mental health professionals to report those likely to harm themselves or others so they can have firearms confiscated — and that’s in addition to a 2021 expansion of the red flag law that also directs mental health facilities to seek protection orders for dangerous people. Neither appears to have been tripped here.

It’s also absurd that a simple and easily reversible modification rendered this assault weapon legal in New York. At long last, eliminate all carve-outs allowing civilian ownership of semi-automatic rifles that can fire dozens of rounds without so much as swapping out a magazine. And not just at the state level. Make another push to reinstate the assault weapon and high-capacity magazine ban, Mr. President.


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