TAMPA BAY, Fla. — A tougher law – passed in the wake of the Parkland mass shooting – lets authorities take away guns from mentally ill people who have been committed, but an ABC Action News investigation found a dangerous loophole that allows them to legally buy new firearms.
I-Team reporter Adam Walser discovered a mentally ill person can still legally buy a gun – even weeks after all their other firearms are taken away by police.
“There can be a gap period in there where they could go out and buy a gun,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
Gualtieri says before the Parkland shooting, it was difficult to keep guns away from mentally ill people who have been committed.
“They were getting out and keeping their guns when there were a whole lot of indicators that that person shouldn’t have a gun,” Gualtieri said.
But under a new law, officers can take away guns from someone who’s been committed. The case then heads to court, where a judge decides whether to sign an order that bars gun possession or new purchases for a least a year.
The I-Team found that the entire process can take up to 14 days.
Since the law went into effect in April, 788 of the so-called risk protection orders have been served statewide. In the Tampa Bay area, judges served 400 orders – with at least 117 issued in Pinellas County.
Gun dealer Jennifer Osborne says she often relies on her own instincts before even running a firearm application.
“I would say in the last six months we’ve told more than 300 people in this store we wouldn’t sell them a gun,” said Osborne.
But Osborne also says she worries the new law could be used to threaten gun owners’ rights.
“Definitely could be, very easily, a lot of government overreach with this,” said Osborne.
But Jeanette said she fears the new law doesn’t do enough to prevent another Parkland-style shooting.
Jeanette said her estranged husband owned machine guns and other firearms regulated by ATF and records show he was involuntarily committed multiple times while he had that license.
ABC Action News is only identifying Jeanette by her first name to protect her husband’s medical privacy.
Deputies only took away Jeanette’s husband’s guns two years after he was first committed under the state’s Baker Act – after he left a message on a friend’s voicemail saying he needed “some guns right now” and he wanted to “turn this county upside down.”
In a phone call with ABC Action News, Jeanette’s husband said his mental health episodes were caused by prescription drugs he no longer takes. He also said he never hurt anyone and willingly got rid of all his guns after the restraining order expired.
But Jeanette said February’s mass killing in Parkland played out her own worst nightmares involving guns and mental illness – and she wants tougher laws.
“How does that protect me or you or children?” said Jeanette.
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