BUFFALA, New York – Less than a year before he allegedly opened fire and killed 10 people in a racist attack on a Buffalo grocery store, 18-year-old Peyton Hendron was investigated for making threatening statements at his high school .

New York has a “red flag” law designed to keep firearms away from people who could harm themselves or others, but Hendron was still able to legally purchase an AR-15-style rifle.

A “common” threat at Sasquehanna Valley High School last June, when he was 17, led to a state police call and a mental health examination at the hospital.

New York Gov. Katie Hochul told Buffalo radio station WKSE-FM that Hendron was talking about homicides and suicides when a teacher asked about his plans after graduation, and it was quickly reported, but the threat was not considered specific enough to do more.

New York State police said Monday they were not asked to take the suspect’s firearm.

The revelations raise new questions about why the law was not enacted and how the effectiveness of “red flag laws” passed in 19 states and the District of Columbia may vary depending on how they are enforced.


Typically, red flag laws, also known as emergency risk protection orders, are designed to temporarily remove weapons from people with potentially violent behavior, usually up to a year. In many cases, family members or law enforcement have to petition the court for order, although New York is a rare state in which educators can also begin the process.

However, in order to seize the weapon for such a time, a hearing is required, during which the prosecutor’s office must convince the judge that the person is in danger. Most states also prohibit a person from buying more weapons during this period.

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Red Flag laws are often passed after tragedies. Florida did so after the mass shooting at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018, which killed 17 students. Law enforcement agencies have received numerous complaints about the threatening remarks of a 19-year-old armed man.

“This is actually one of the very few policies we have where it actually draws on this vanishing little point of understanding between people in health care who want to stop violence, gun owners and the arms industry,” the professor said. Jeffrey Swanson. in psychiatry at Duke University, which investigates gun violence.

But Swanson added: “The problem is that it’s still so easy for people to get weapons … It’s not one problem, and there is no one solution.”


The 2019 law allows family members, prosecutors, police and school officials to apply to the courts for confiscation of weapons from those who pose a danger to themselves or others. The subjects of the court are also prohibited from acquiring weapons during the validity of the order.

An explanation from the law on the state government’s website says the law made New York the first state to give teachers and school administrators the ability to “prevent school shootings by court intervention.”

An online description prepared for the Buffalo massacre expressed optimism about the impact of the law, saying it would protect gun rights while “ensuring that tragedies such as the school shootings in Parkland, Florida, do not recur.”

The question is why one was not used in the Hendron case.


Someone seeking an order submits a simple two-page application to the primary district court. It is considered a civil case, with no criminal charge or punishment.

The judge decides whether to issue an interim order on the same day as the application, according to the website of the New York court. When he is released, the police take away the weapon.

A hearing with witnesses and evidence is scheduled for 10 days. If the judge decides to issue a permanent ruling, it will be valid for one year. The applicant may request an extension.


Some opponents of New York City red flag legislation feared it could lead to false accusations by family members or others of offending the gun owner.

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Lawmakers in New York and other countries were aware of possible legal pitfalls and drafted laws in a way to avoid constitutional problems, said Eric Ruben, an employee of the Brennan Justice Center who also teaches law at Deadman School of Law in Dallas.

Among the guarantees in New York, he said, is the relatively high standard of proof – accurate and convincing evidence – needed to secure a final, annual order, he said. The law also provides for fines for false statements.


The law, Ruben said, “creates significant obstacles” for those who want to buy firearms under the red flag because it is introduced into the document verification system while the order is in effect. “However, that would not deter anyone from making illegal purchases.”

Experts in the field of red flag laws argue that the laws have undoubtedly saved lives, whether in cases involving planned mass shootings, suicides or potentially deadly domestic violence.

“Certainly, the Red Flag laws are more than anything else aimed at trying to stop the mass shootings,” said Dave Kopel, director of research at the Independence Institute’s Liberty think tank in Colorado, which supports gun rights. “But they can and should be used not only for this. Several murders or suicides are horrible enough.”

Swanson was working on a study that found Connecticut prevented one suicide for every 10 to 20 people subjected to gun seizures. A 2019 California study found it was used in mass shooting threats 21 times. Maryland authorities have granted more than 300 petitions in the three months since the law went into effect, including at least four threats of school violence.

This study shows that the laws worked, said Alison Anderman, a senior attorney at the Giffords Law Center for the Prevention of Violence with Weapons, although the absolute evidence can be harsh.

“It is very difficult to prove that the law is effective on the basis of what is not happening,” she said. “We still have a problem when we have more weapons than the people in this country, and this patched system of laws and our weak laws.”

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