Buffalo Shooting Raises Questions on Red-Flag Law

Suspected gunman was able to buy a weapon despite writing threats at school
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 17, 2022 3:00 PM CDT
Buffalo Shooting Raises Questions on Red-Flag Law
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden pay their respects to the victims of Saturday's shooting at a memorial across the street from the TOPS Market in Buffalo, NY, on Tuesday.   (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

(Newser) – New York has a "red-flag" law that prohibits a person who presents a threat to themselves or others from buying or possessing a gun. So how did the suspect in Saturday's mass shooting in Buffalo legally buy a semi-automatic rifle in the state less than a year after threatening a murder-suicide? The answer, per NBC News, is that Payton Gendron was cleared by New York State Police during a mental health evaluation at a hospital last June. "I want to murder and commit suicide," he allegedly wrote on a school project in regard to his summer plans. School officials then alerted state police. But no one involved in that investigation initiated the court process to prevent a gun sale, a police rep confirms.

Gendron was cleared because he claimed the comment was a joke, a law enforcement official tells the New York Times. But "it was not a joke, I wrote that down because that's what I was planning to do,” Gendron wrote in documents posted online, per the Times. He also claimed he spent "~20 hours in that ER waiting for somebody to give me 15 minutes to talk to me," which "proved to me that the US healthcare system is a joke." New York Gov. Kathy Hochul called for an investigation into the handling of the case on Monday. "There was nothing that flagged that he wouldn’t be able to—from that encounter, at the time—be able to go into a store and purchase a gun," she said, per NBC. "Now, we need to question that."

"They're investigating the risk and then determining that there wasn't a risk," adds David Pucino, the deputy chief counsel at the gun-safety-focused Giffords Law Center. He says there might have been a lack of awareness about the Extreme Risk Protection Order law, which went into effect on Aug. 24, 2019. Still, "it was designed exactly for this circumstance." Some 1,464 extreme-risk protection orders have been issued since the law went into effect, including 24 in Gendron's home of Broome County, per NBC and the New York Daily News. But it's not only law enforcement who can start the court intervention process. Family members and school officials, including teachers, can also petition a court, per the AP. (Read more Buffalo shooting stories.)

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