A law approved in the wake of Parkland allows law enforcement to seize temporarily guns and ammunition owned by people deemed to be threats to themselves or others.

WEST PALM BEACH — One man brought a gun to a West Palm Beach club and threatened a stripper. Another said he wanted to “kill all illegal immigrants.” Still another planned to shoot up the middle school where his mother worked. And one fired numerous shots at the feet of a county animal-control officer.

In the two years since a “risk-protection order” program was established, more than 100 Palm Beach County cases, featuring everything from suicidal declarations to massacre threats, have prompted authorities to obtain court orders letting them temporarily seize guns and ammunition owned by people deemed to be threats to themselves or others.

The orders, which totaled 106 as of the end of February, also bar the individuals from buying more of either for at least a year.

The so-called “red-flag law” is one component of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act’s efforts to restrict access to guns.

The act, passed three weeks after the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at the high school in Parkland, also includes banning “bump stocks,” hiking to 21 from 18 the minimum age to buy a gun and imposing a three-day waiting period on any gun purchase.

A review by The Palm Beach Post of Palm Beach County cases — which have come at a rate of about one per week — sketches a familiar narrative of concern over mentally ill individuals with access to guns.

More often than not, they were white men about 40 years old who had been on law enforcement’s radar for years.

More than half struggled with drugs or alcohol. Threats of a mass shooting were rare. Only three specifically mentioned a school.

Nearly every one of the order requests was approved.

>>MORE Delray Beach police file county’s first order to seize guns under new law

Of the 106, a few had been charged with violent crimes at the same time as the risk-protection order: two for attempted murder, five for threats and 17 on variations of assault, aggravated assault and battery.

Many of the others had past records, but in most cases, not for violent crimes. One had a previous charge for making threats and seven on battery or assault charges.

Only one was charged with a serious violent crime after the risk protection order: a man who was charged with battery on an older person a year later.

Palm Beach County cases

The first case listed in Palm Beach County court dockets, filed in June 2018, involved a man who told Delray Beach police he was "not right in the head" and wanted to walk in front of a train. In the back of the police cruiser, he cast his eyes on the officer's rifle and said he wanted to do some damage with it. In June 2019, a judge extended the order on the man by another year.

.img-left{ width: 200px; float:left; padding:0; margin: 0 15px 05px 0; } .img-left img{ margin-bottom:5px; } .img-left-caption{ font-family:Roboto Condensed,Helvetica Neue,Helvetica,Roboto,Arial,sans-serif; font-size:.9em !important; line-height:110% !important; text-align: left; margin: 0!important; padding: 0!important; } Zachary Cruz, the brother of Parkland gunman Nikolas Cruz, was one of the first people to whom the ’red flag’ law was applied. [Broward County Sheriff'S Office]

In another case, a 36-year-old called his sister to say he was mad at their mother and wanted to “shoot up” the middle school where she teaches. Delray Beach police signed off on a risk-protection order.

Two days later, the man’s therapist advised he said he wanted to kill himself, but first planned to “get back” at his mother by killing her and shooting up her school. He showed up there, prompting a lockdown.

He wasn’t arrested. Instead, the next day, Delray Beach authorities obtained an emergency injunction. Two weeks later, a judge approved the yearlong ban.

>>MORE Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw talks ‘red flag’ laws on Capitol Hill

In Palm Beach County, jail records show, just three people have been criminally charged with violating those orders.

One tried to buy a gun the day after the order went into effect. Another showed up at his ex’s home with a loaded gun. And a third was caught in a Boynton Beach neighborhood with a gun and drugs.

Outside Palm Beach County, the most notable case early on targeted someone close to the mass shooting that had inspired the law.

Just days after the program went into effect, Broward County authorities obtained an order for Zachary Cruz. The brother of Parkland gunman Nikolas Cruz, Zachary, then 18, had been caught trespassing at the school where authorities say Nikolas Cruz just five weeks earlier had killed 17 students and staff members and injured 17 more.

Federal lawmakers have been mulling a plan to give states incentives to enact similar red-flag law legislation. In 2018, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee called on Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw to describe how his office uses the orders.

“The risk protection order is not the end-all. It’s just another tool in the toolbox,” Bradshaw said at the Senate hearing.

“We cannot arrest our way out of this situation,” Bradshaw said. “Prevention, intervention are the key ways to resolving the issue.”

.img-100{ width: 100% !important; padding:0 !important; margin: 0 0 5px 0 !important; } .img-100 img{ margin-bottom:5px !important; } .img-100-caption{ font-family:Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif !important; font-size:.8em !important; line-height:110% !important; text-align: left; margin: 0!important; padding: 0!important; } Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw speaks before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee about risk-protection orders, also known as 'red flag laws,' on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. [Screenshot from U.S. Senate hearing]

U.S. Rep Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, whose district includes Parkland, was part of bipartisan groups that filed the Jake Laird Act and the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, both federal versions of state acts. They have yet to come up for a vote in the House.

“Extreme risk protection orders are the kind of policies that are bipartisan and proven to save lives. There’s no question that Congress should be doing more,” Deutch said Feb. 19.

What critics say

Lawyers who’ve represented people who are the subjects of order proceedings aren’t as enthusiastic about the concept.

Cory C. Strolla represented Christopher Blinston, hit with an order in February 2019 after the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office argued the Welllington man had a long history of domestic violence, including arrests, and was known to have guns.

Strolla told The Post last year that he worried from the beginning the program amounts to "government overreach."

In Blinston's case, which is under appeal, “not a single shred of evidence was presented that he was an eminent threat,” Strolla said.

Orlando Gonzalez represented Kevin Flaherty, who lived west of Boca Raton, in a September 2018 proceeding. The petition by PBSO said Flaherty had a history of mental issues, including post-traumatic stress syndrome, as well as substance abuse, and previously had threatened his family with guns.

.img-left{ width: 200px; float:left; padding:0; margin: 0 15px 05px 0; } .img-left img{ margin-bottom:5px; } .img-left-caption{ font-family:Roboto Condensed,Helvetica Neue,Helvetica,Roboto,Arial,sans-serif; font-size:.9em !important; line-height:110% !important; text-align: left; margin: 0!important; padding: 0!important; } Dave Aronberg thinks the proof that risk-protection orders are working lies in how most of the people facing them consent to them. [RICHARD GRAULICH]

"It's kind of like the burden of proof is very, very minimal," Gonzalez told The Post last year. "Even if you do have an attorney, it's probably not going to go very well for you.”

Dave Aronberg, Palm Beach County state attorney for the past 7½ years, calls himself a "vocal supporter" of the program.

He acknowledged the civil-liberties concerns. But he said the hearing is in civil court, not criminal, but the people who are the subjects of order requests have all the rights a criminal defendant would have, except for a free lawyer.

"Judges are asked to predict future behavior. In nearly every other case, judges evaluated past behavior," Aronberg told The Post on Feb. 21. "It's new terrain."

But he said one of the best arguments for the program's success is that most of the people consent to the order.

"If someone admits to having an anger-management problem, or another behavioral-health issue that could impact public safety, it's definitely a good thing that Florida has this law on the books," Aronberg said.

"It's hard to know how many crimes have been averted, and lives saved, because it's hard to prove a negative," he said. "But the fact that this law is used about five times every day in Florida, where a large majority of the hearings are uncontested, shows that it has been a positive."

Ohitchcock@pbpost.com

@ohitchcock

EK@pbpost.com

@eliotkpbp

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