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How Indiana's Jake Laird Law works

Law was established after 2004 tragedy
Indiana gun store to host firearm-safety class for kids
Posted at 3:47 PM, Apr 19, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana's red flag law was established after a tragedy that happened on Aug. 18, 2004.

On that day, Kenneth Anderson went on a rampage in the 2700 block of Dietz Street with an SKS rifle and two handguns. He first killed his mother, Alice Anderson, and then began firing shots around the neighborhood.

The first Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer to arrive at the scene was shot and injured in his vehicle, but he was able to retreat. Anderson then shot four more officers, including Timothy "Jake" Laird, who later died from his injuries.

A police officer places a carnation on the casket of Indianapolis Police Patrolman Timothy "Jake" Laird during a funeral in Indianapolis, Monday, Aug. 23, 2004. Laird, 31, was killed Wednesday by a gunman who sprayed a city neighborhood with bullets from an assault rifle after authorities said he fatally shot his mother. Another officer shot and killed the gunman, Kenneth Anderson, 33, who police said had a history of mental problems. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Months earlier in 2004, Anderson had been taken to St. Francis Hospital for an emergency detention. During the investigation, officers removed weapons from his home. Anderson demanded they be returned and received them from police in March 2004.

In 2005, Indiana lawmakers approved a bill to establish a red flag law — the Jake Laird Law — that would allow police to temporarily seize firearms from people who present a danger to themselves or others without requiring a warrant or judge's signature. It was later amended in 2019 as House Enrolled Act 1651 to expand and clarify the law.

Indiana is one of 19 states, plus the District of Columbia, to have a red flag law, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Twelve of the states and the District of Columbia allow family or household members, in addition to law enforcement, to petition a court to keep guns away from people considered an extreme risk to themselves or others. However, in Indiana, only law enforcement or state officials can make that request.

How the Jake Laird Law works

A police officer can submit a written request to the court explaining why a person should be considered dangerous and have their firearms seized. Police can also request the suspension of a person's gun license and prohibit them from "renting, receiving transfer of, owning, or possessing firearms."

A dangerous person could present a danger to themselves or others. They might also suffer from mental illness that is not controlled by medication and have "a propensity for violent or suicidal conduct," according to a state website explaining the law.

A judge has 14 days to review the seizure and gun owners are allowed to fight the order in court.

If the judge finds probable cause, law enforcement must keep the guns until the court orders otherwise. If not, police are required to return the firearms within five days.

A person whose guns have been seized can petition the court every 180 days for the return of their firearms by proving they are no longer a dangerous person. The burden falls on the person for up to one year. After a year passes, the state must prove "by clear and convincing evidence" the person is still dangerous and firearms should not be returned.

If the court finds a person is no longer dangerous, police must return the firearms within five days.

Firearms that remain in police custody for at least five years can be destroyed.

How effective is the Jake Laird Law?

The law has been used hundreds of times in Indianapolis to allow officers to seize weapons. The Marion County Prosecutor's Office is currently handling eight cases involving a person with mental health issues and determining whether they should possess a weapon.

On Monday, Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said the state's red flag law was not used after police confiscated a shotgun from Brandon Scott Hole months before he purchased the firearms used in the April 15 at an Indianapolis FedEx Ground facility.

He said legislative limitations and the circumstances surrounding that original seizure ultimately led to his office's decision not to file the red flag petition against Hole. Because Hole's family agreed to forfeit the weapon and didn't want it back, a petition was never filed, Mears said.

"We were then in that position to fulfill the purpose and intent of the law as we were able to take the firearm out of that residence and they agreed to not seek the return of that weapon," Mears said.

RELATED | Marion Co. Prosecutor says Indiana's red flag law wouldn't have stopped FedEx mass shooter

With the FedEx shooting putting a focus on the law, many believe Indiana's red flag statute serves a purpose, but they also say it is a tool that needs tightening.

"I have police officers call me all the time still to this day saying, 'Hey I got to use to Jake Laird law today,' so I think it's done a lot of good,” Jake Laird's father, Mike Laird, said. "It's just a step to try and help get things under control. It's not a solution."

State Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, said the current law is lopsided and favors gun ownership over public safety.

“It does that by you have to prove with clear and convincing evidence that the person is a danger,” Delaney said. “It’s basically medical proof you have to provide.”

He said the law should make it so authorities can get medical records explicitly, change the time frame and put it in the NICS system that someone is under examination to have their weapon taken.

“We need support from the majority, and we need a sense of urgency,” Delaney said. “We made the New York Times because we’ve had so many incidents happen in this area. This is harmful to the lives of these families and destroys the image of our community. We have to take it seriously. This is the right time.”

State Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, said the law, in her view, could have worked as it should in 2020 when the suspect in the deadly mass shooting in Indianapolis had a shotgun taken from him.

“I think it’s clear the way we drafted legislation in 2019 was to prohibit a person who was deemed to be unsafe from not only possessing a firearm but also going out and purchasing another firearm,” Houchin said. “That’s the very loophole we were closing in 2019. In this case, the prosecutor never pursued the red flag law.”

She said the law allows prosecutors up to 60 days to bring a case forward and beyond that, the prosecutor could continue trying to make a case.

“In my view nothing in our existing law should have been a hindrance for the prosecutor,” Houchin said.

While she’s always open to looking at existing laws and how they can be improved, she said she wants to wait until “we know everything” about the shooting at FedEx before saying what should or shouldn’t be changed.

“In (HEA) 1651 we did make it a Level 5 felony to knowingly provide a firearm to a prohibited person and strengthened that law,” Houchin said. “I’m always happy to look at changes, but in the aftermath of something so tragic I would want us to be very thoughtful of whether or how to do that.”

WRTV reporter Rafael Sanchez contributed to this report.

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