INDIANAPOLIS – Since the FedEx shooting one year ago, questions have been raised about Indiana’s red flag law and how it’s used and enforced.
Indiana became the second state in the nation to pass a red flag law in 2005 after the death of IMPD officer Jake Laird. The law is meant to prevent anyone deemed mentally unfit from obtaining a firearm.
The law was amended in 2019.
Since the FedEx shooting, some have argued the law is failing Hoosiers, while others say they believe some have failed to apply the law.
“I know the system failed,” said Sheila Hole, the mother of the FedEx gunman, 19-year-old Brandon Hole. “I know I failed, or we wouldn’t have this outcome.”
Sheila Hole called police for help more than a year before the mass shooting at FedEx. In March 2020, she believed her son was going to kill himself.
IMPD took a shotgun from their home, and it was never returned. Brandon Hole was also sent for mental health treatment but checked out moments later.
Despite police filing paperwork, Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears didn’t pursue a court hearing under Indiana’s red flag law.
“This horrific happening is something that should have, could have been prevented,” Sheila Hole said.
Last year, Mears cited several concerns, telling reporters the law didn’t allow enough time to gather the evidence needed.
The law requires officials to make a “good faith effort” to hold a court hearing within 14 days after a search warrant is filed.
“This case does illustrate some of the shortcomings that do exist with this red flag law,” Mears said days after the shooting. “Because we have 14 days, our ability to have access to meaningful medical history, meaningful mental health records is severely limited.”
Mears and IMPD declined our requests for interviews for this story.
Though every county is different, some other prosecutors feel the law hasn’t posed any challenges for them.
“Working very closely with the sheriff and other law enforcement here, it’s worked really well for us,” said Brent Eaton, the prosecutor in nearby Hancock County.
“There are times when we do have to seek records and it might take a minute to get those things, but at the end of the day, the deadlines are there for a reason,” Eaton said.
“Obviously hindsight is always 20/20, and clearly, the prosecutor’s office that could have done more, should have done more,” said Paul Helmke, former president and CEO of the Brady Center To Prevent Gun Violence and the former mayor of Fort Wayne.
Helmke, who now teaches civics at Indiana University, said he believes Indiana’s red flag law is beneficial in some ways. Though he points out background checks aren’t required in Indiana for in-state private gun sales.
“It’s good at taking a gun away from someone who is perceived to be dangerous, but it’s not as good in terms of stopping them from buying a gun,” Helmke said.
Despite some of the concerns raised about the law, the Indiana Legislature didn’t make any changes to the law this year.
“There’s nothing been presented to me that says the red flag law doesn’t work,” said State Sen. Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis).
Freeman, a defense attorney and former deputy prosecutor who has worked on both sides of red flag hearings, argues the current red flag law is balanced for both prosecutors and defendants.
“I think the law is pretty fair, it’s pretty balanced and works when properly applied and when pursued,” Freeman said.
Under a new state law, starting July 1, most Hoosiers won’t need a permit to carry a firearm outside the home. The law still bans anyone mentally unfit from having a gun.
Still, some law enforcement officers say without permits, it’ll be hard for them to determine whether someone shouldn’t have a gun.
“You lose that information, you lose that vetting process by saying, ‘hey, there’s no reason for a permit,’” said Hancock County Sheriff Brad Burkhart. “And so it’s just going to be a challenge.”
Freeman said he hopes that issue can be addressed without a change in the law, but he didn’t rule out the possibility of a legislative fix if one is needed.
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