NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Covenant School shooting is renewing debate over “red flag” laws, designed to temporarily take away weapons from individuals who pose a danger to themselves or others.  

Nashville Police Chief John Drake said he wishes more could’ve been done to alert officers to Audrey Hale before Monday’s tragic shooting at The Covenant School.  

“Had it been reported that she was suicidal or that she was going to kill someone, and it had been made known to us, then we would have tried to get those weapons,” Drake said. 

Currently, 19 states have “red flag” laws, allowing law enforcement to take away guns. But do the laws actually work? 

Jeffrey Swanson, Ph.D., a psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor at Duke University School of Medicine, has been studying red flag laws for years. Swanson is also an affiliate of the Wilson Center for Science and Justice at Duke Law School and part of the Duke Center for Firearms Law.

“Has a probate court said that he is incompetent and does he have a guardian? Well, has he committed a crime, has he broken the law? No. Well then call us back when he does something. So, it might be too late,” Swanson said.  

For “red flag” laws to be successful, Swanson notes states must actually use them.  

According to the Associated Press, Florida has used their surrender law almost 6,000 times since the Parkland School shooting. Compare that to Illinois, where since 2020, a little more than 150 weapons have been surrendered, including just four in Chicago. 

When studying a subset of “red flag” states, researchers looked at how many guns were taken away after threats of a mass shooting.  

“It’s about 10% across these states are being used when there was that kind of a threat, and the most frequent target was a K-12 school. We don’t know for sure those threats would have materialized had the gun rule action not been put into place but we do know that they’re being used in a nontrivial number of these cases,” Swanson said.  

Working to prevent gun violence is personal to Swanson, after losing three family members to suicides that involved guns. He believes “red flag” laws are an effective tool. 

“It’s a civil restraining order, it’s not criminalizing, it’s temporary. It respects the Second Amendment rights of gun owners,” Swanson said.