In early July, Virginia Beach police officers responded to a call about a man threatening to shoot himself in the head in his ex-girlfriend’s driveway after she broke up with him. According to court documents, they found a loaded gun in his car.
Less than a week later, they received a call about a man who allegedly pointed a handgun at his neighbor’s forehead, said “I want to know why this place is creeping on me” and threatened to shoot if he didn’t get an answer. When officers went to the man’s home, they found him driving slowly across his front yard with an assault-style rifle across his chest and a handgun wedged by the passenger seat. At one point he reportedly said: “I could have taken all of you.”
In mid-August, a Virginia Beach officer learned a woman who had previously been diagnosed with PTSD and bipolar disorder had said she had planned to shoot herself at Mount Trashmore Park but didn’t go through with it, explaining that “families started showing up and that it wasn’t her time.” She said she would wait until she officially lost her job, then do it.
All three people had substantial risk orders filed against them under the state’s new red flag law, which lets local authorities temporarily ban people from possessing or buying guns if they’re found to be a safety risk. The orders were filed despite Virginia Beach’s self-professed status as a “Second Amendment Constitutional City,” a moniker approved by its city council via a resolution passed in January under pressure from the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun-rights group. The vote drew wide attention, coming about seven months after a mass shooting at a Virginia Beach municipal building that killed 12 people.
Though local politicians in many conservative-leaning Virginia communities voted last year to symbolically declare their opposition to Democratic-supported gun control measures, court records show that law enforcement agencies in some of those localities are already using the red flag law to try to prevent people from hurting themselves or others.
“Clearly the law is working when law enforcement is taking advantage of this tool in so many situations,” said Lori Haas, Virginia director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, which has advocated for the red flag law and numerous other gun restrictions.
Of at least 21 red flag cases filed in July and August, the first two months of the law’s existence, roughly half occurred in counties and cities that passed pro-gun resolutions after the Democratic takeover of the General Assembly in elections last November, court records show.
The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.