Testimony of Tony Montalto to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution hearing, “Stop Gun Violence: Extreme Risk Order/ “Red Flag” Laws

U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution Hearing entitled “Stop Gun Violence: Extreme Risk Order/ “Red Flag” Laws

Chairman Blumenthal, Ranking Member Cruz, and other distinguished members of the Committee, we urge you to come together and enact legislation to improve the safety of America’s students and staff members while they are at school in this 117th Congressional session.

Stand with Parkland – The National Association of Families for Safe Schools was founded by the 17 families who lost loved ones in the Parkland, Florida school massacre on February 14, 2018. The loss of our beloved spouses and children while at school was devastating to our families. We all realized a change is needed to avoid another mass shooting in America’s schools. Our organization’s mission became clear: Stand with Parkland is a national organization representing American families. We are committed to advocating for practical public safety reforms focused on the safety of our children and staff at school,improved mental health support, and responsible firearms ownership. Personal responsibility and a desire for change are paramount to this effort, and it is the people involved at all levels that will make these goals a reality. Violence in our schools affects everyone. It is an American epidemic, and it is time that we all come together to do something about it.

In twenty-plus years since Columbine, our nation has made little progress in stopping these mass school shootings. This issue affects us all, Democrats and Republicans alike. The effort to solve this complex issue begins when all Americans show a willingness to sit down and have a discussion and respectfully listen to the views of others. Surely there is more that unites us on this issue than divides us. The next step is to find what we agree on and bring that consensus position to Congress and ask that laws be created to keep our nation’s students and staff members safe in America’s schools.

Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) – commonly known as Red Flag Laws, can save lives by creating a way for family members and law enforcement to act before warning signs escalate into tragedies. These laws are powerful tools that enable law enforcement officers to protect themselves and others. Red Flag Laws also touch on the mental health pillar of our holistic approach to school safety and have been shown to reduce the suicide rates in states that use them. They are effective in many states, including Florida and Connecticut. Prior to the Parkland, FL school massacre, five states had Risk Protection Order Laws in place, now twenty states plus the District of Columbia currently protect their citizens with these laws.

Following the tragic murder of our children and spouses on Valentine’s Day of 2018, action was taken when Florida’s then-Governor Rick Scott, worked with legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle to pass sweeping legislation to make schools safer. Included in that package was a Red Flag law. In the wake of our tragedy, President Trump created the Federal Commission on School Safety which published its report in December of 2018. It cited the need for and recommended that states pass Extreme Risk Protection Order Laws and President Trump echoed those findings. Yet Congress failed to act.

Just a few short weeks ago our nation saw President Biden call for action following the mass murders in Atlanta, GA and Boulder, CO. One of the measures he called for was Red Flag Laws and Stand with Parkland wholeheartedly supports that measure because it will help keep firearms in the hands of responsible firearms owners as opposed to having them in the hands of someone who has been deemed a threat to themselves or others. How can it be that both our current President, a Democrat, and our most recent former President, a Republican, have both called on Congress to act on this issue, and yet nothing has been done?

This hearing is a start, but it is not the first to be held before the US Senate on the subject of Red Flag Laws. In February of 2019 Stand with Parkland founding members, Tom and Gena Hoyer and I met with Senator Graham then Chair of the Judiciary committee. We spoke about our murdered children, Luke and Gina, and asked for a hearing regarding Red Flag Laws. True to his word, Senator Graham held that hearing 6 weeks later in March of 2019. During that testimony, it became clear that someone misidentified and subject to a having firearm removed was inconvenienced for two or three weeks. However, I can tell you that without the protections these laws provide the devastating consequences to my family and the other 16 families from Parkland are eternal. Sadly, though this hearing took place, Congress failed to act.

We hope the 117th Congress does not continue to fail all America’s citizens as well. We are tired of hearing words without seeing them followed by action. How many more lives need to be taken? How many more communities need to be traumatized? How many more families must be shattered before our elected leaders respond? What will it take to get action out of both the House and Senate to give the President something to sign?

The answer should be – not one more.

President Biden tasked the Justice department with crafting a model Red Flag law for states to adopt. We believe that they and members of this committee should look closely at Florida’s ERPO statute which by February of 2020 had been used over 3,500 times with few if any discernable complaints. Any new law must allow law enforcement to remove firearms from the home of those considered to be a danger to themselves or others. To balance the rights of the individual in question, there must be protections that respect due process and discourages abuse of the law. It should also consider a provision that allows the return of the firearms after a well-defined and thorough review process and the Risk Protection Order restrictions must be entered into the NICS background check system in a timely manner. Had these laws been in place in Florida before February 14, 2018, the numerous warnings regarding the murderer of our loved ones would have given law enforcement a chance to remove the firearms from his home and Parkland would still be an idyllic town and our families would be whole instead of forever broken.

Stand with Parkland – The National Association of Families for Safe Schools advocates for a holistic approach toward improving the safety of all schools by:

  1. Securing the campus
  2. Improved mental health screening and intervention
  3. Responsible firearms ownership

All these issues listed above need to be addressed, not only one or two. However, since this committee has oversight of the firearms piece of the puzzle, we would like to add the two items listed below for your< consideration.

H.R. 8 – Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021 should be an important piece in helping our nation keep students and staff safe at school. We need robust laws on the books and enforcement on the streets of our nation to keep firearms out of the hands of those who should not have them. Mandatory background checks on all sales and transfers of firearms need to become part of our national effort to stop our children from being murdered at school.

Safe Firearms Storage – Most school shooters get the weapon used in the massacre from a relative. Therefore, it is incumbent on the owner of each firearm to be responsible for its safe storage. Enforcement of current laws and the creation of new laws compelling owners of firearms to secure them properly is something for this Congress and administration to explore. Securing the firearm from those who should not have access to it could help reduce suicide deaths and will help add to the safety of our nation’s staff members and students at school.

Once again, we ask that the committee, and Congress as a whole, come together and enact legislation to improve the safety of America’s students and staff members while they are at school. Stand with Parkland – The National Association of Families for Safe Schools believes that Red Flag Laws that keep firearms in the hands of responsible owners will help prevent mass shootings in America’s schools. We encourage the committee to consider H.R. 8 – Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021 or a similar Senate bill, and new Safe Storage Laws that would help keep America’s staff members and students safe while in school. Our nation needs concerted bipartisan action by all our elected leaders to help solve these complex issues.