Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Thursday that he would not support a national red flag law if elected president and called for more people experiencing mental health struggles to be involuntarily committed to a treatment facility.
DeSantis’ remarks in an interview on CNN came just a day after mass shootings in Lewiston, Maine, that left 18 dead and set off an ongoing manhunt for the suspected killer. The suspect in the shootings had reportedly experienced mental health issues in the past and was institutionalized for two weeks over the summer.
In Florida, law enforcement agencies can ask judges to bar individuals who are considered dangerous or are experiencing mental health crises from possessing or buying firearms for up to 12 months — a measure known as a risk protection order. That provision, widely known as a “red flag law,” was put in place following the deadly mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
But DeSantis said on Thursday that he’s “not sure” that a similar law would have prevented the mass shootings in Maine, which doesn’t have a red flag law in place. He argued that the government should devote more resources to institutionalizing individuals experiencing mental health crises rather than confiscating their weapons.
“Part of it is we do need more institutionalization,” DeSantis said. “There are some people who are dangerous to society. A lot of them get put back on the streets. It will require more resources, but I think that’s appropriate.”
DeSantis also insisted incorrectly that Florida’s red flag law isn’t intended to allow law enforcement to confiscate firearms from people with mental health issues, but instead applies to cases in which someone “is making threats.” In fact, the law allows a court to seize firearms if there is “evidence of the respondent being seriously mentally ill or having recurring mental health issues.”
Asked whether there are any gun restrictions he would sign into law if elected president, DeSantis suggested that there’s not.
“Restricting Second Amendment rights?” he asked. “I’m going to uphold the Constitution.”
DeSantis opposed the passage of Florida’s red flag law during his first run for governor in 2018. He told CNN on Thursday that he would have vetoed the bill if he had been in the governor’s mansion at the time, and blamed the Republican-controlled Legislature for keeping the law around.
He said that red flag laws are prone to abuse and risk violating Americans’ due-process rights under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“I think red flag has been abused because people can just lodge a complaint, sometimes they’ll take somebody’s firearms,” he said.
Florida law, meanwhile, allows for a person to be involuntarily committed for up to six months through an order of an administrative law judge.
As governor, DeSantis has taken steps to loosen gun restrictions in Florida. Earlier this year, he signed into law a measure allowing individuals to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. State lawmakers have also filed a handful of gun-related bills ahead of the upcoming legislative session, including a measure that would require background checks for firearm purchases to be completed within three business days.