WINCHESTER — "What's the point in living?" "I just want to die."
Those were the comments police said a man made prior to having his guns taken in the first local case involving Virginia’s new "red flag" law. The case was adjudicated on Monday in Winchester Circuit Court.
The 45-year-old Winchester man made the suicidal threats while in possession of a pistol on July 17, according to police. He voluntarily surrendered three guns to police and will not be allowed to possess guns until at least Jan. 30. The man didn't attend the hearing on the "substantial risk order," according to Marc Abrams, Winchester commonwealth's attorney. The Winchester Star isn't naming the man because he hasn't been charged with a crime.
The new law, which went into effect July 1, is designed to keep guns away from potentially violent people. There are approximately 36,000 gun deaths annually in the U.S. including about 1,000 in Virginia, according to the Gifford Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which analyzed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics. That includes about 22,000 suicides and nearly 13,000 homicides.
Virginia and at least 16 states and the District of Columbia have red flag laws. Virginia's law says a person posing a "substantial risk of injury" to themselves or others can't buy, own or transport guns.
The red flag law and other gun control measures passed the Democratically-controlled General Assembly earlier this year in Richmond, despite fierce opposition from gun rights advocates. In January, about 22,000 gun owners protested the legislation at the state capitol. Resolutions in support of Second Amendment rights were also adopted by many Virginia localities, including Clarke and Frederick counties.
Critics of the red flag law said it could lead to guns being taken away unjustly.
In the local incident, police responded to an unnamed store after a clerk said a man in an "agitated state" in possession of an ammunition clip had left the store and was in the store parking lot rifling through the trunk of his vehicle, according to court documents. When police tried to secure the gun they said was in the trunk, they said the man became angry and made a series of suicidal remarks, including "I'm not going to say I'm going to kill myself, but I'll speed up death," "I'm on the fast track to death" and "I wake up crying every day." He was then taken to Winchester Medical Center.
Under the new law, the man was served with an emergency substantial risk order on July 18, which required him to turn in his guns to police. It gives authorities 14 days to hold a court hearing or return the guns. On July 20, the man turned in two semi-automatic pistols and a pump-action shotgun.
At the hearing, a judge issued a 180-day substantial risk order, which is the maximum time the guns can be held. The order can either expire, allowing the guns to be returned, or authorities can hold another hearing and try to keep them.
Abrams said he understands some Second Amendment supporters dislike the law, but the case met the legal standard for taking the guns. "We'll have to see if it's effective," he said.