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Suffolk County aggressive on 'red flag' gun petitions

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo discusses the state's "red

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo discusses the state's "red flag" gun control law at Farmingdale State College on Sept. 18. Photo Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Suffolk County is being more aggressive in using the state's new "red flag" law than any other place in the state, according to court system records.

So-called red flag laws are on the books in about a third of U.S. states and allow a court to temporarily seize guns from people believed to be a danger to themselves or others.

New York's law went into effect in last month.

Since then, data from the New York State Unified Court System shows 51 requests for "extreme risk protection orders" have been filed in Suffolk County Supreme Court as of midday Monday. Suffolk County Police Department says 20 petitions were pulled, in most cases because an order of protection already barred a person from getting or possessing a weapon.

Suffolk County has the highest overall number of petitions in New York. The county widely surpasses all other high-population New York counties.

Nassau County only logged four petitions — the same number as Westchester County, according to the data.

Between states that allow for such petitions, it can vary dramatically how often these "red flag" procedures are used.

Monday's data show that no requests have been filed in supreme courts from New York City's five boroughs and only 14 counties statewide have logged at least one request.

Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, said the high figure in Suffolk County is probably tied to an aggressive public information campaign or how the petitions are handled in the system.

Higher levels of gun ownership in exurban and rural communities could also be a factor, he said. With more gun owners in a community, he said, it might create more instances where a "red flag" petition could be filed.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart credited the county's high petition numbers with outreach efforts, which she said included connecting with educators and talking about the new law at precinct community meetings.

New York is the first state to empower schools to petition a court themselves for an extreme risk protection order, rather than go through local law enforcement. It's aimed at preventing student suicides and violence.

School principals are allowed to request an order that requires the safe storage of firearms a youth might have access to, such as a parent's gun.

"Our overall goal is to keep our children safe," Hart said.

Critics of such laws argue they can be used to take away firearms from people who have not been accused or convicted of a crime.

Several school systems have said they're not yet sure what the law will look like in action.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last week announced a statewide education campaign on the law.

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