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'Could it have worked?' | Explaining Virginia's 'Red Flag' law, and whether it can be applied in the deadly UVA shooting

Virginia is one of 19 states with a "Red Flag" law in effect.

NORFOLK, Va. — Months before the deadly shooting at the University of Virginia, investigators say they had already come across the name Christopher Jones. 

“Received information Mr. Jones made a comments about possessing a gun," UVA's Chief of Police Tim Longo said. 

In the same news conference where authorities said Jones had been arrested and charged for the deaths of three UVA football players, Longo noted there were prior investigations involving Jones including gun possession comments as well as a prior criminal incident involving concealed weapons violations outside of Charlottesville. 

“Required as a UVA student to report that, but he never did," Longo said.

Virginia is one of 19 states with a "Red Flag" law in effect. In 2020, lawmakers passed HB674, which allows law enforcement officers to take a person's firearm away from them via court order if they pose as a threat to themselves or others. 

“Individuals can report, police can report, but the only people that bring petitions to court are Commonwealth Attorneys or officers acting on a report," Ben Melusky, an associate professor at Old Dominion University, said. 

Despite the previous incidents, Jones' actions would not have automatically initiated the "Red Flag" law going into effect. The bill is predicated on civilian and law enforcement initiation to seek out the necessary court order to remove the weapon from that person's possession. 

Longo also pointed out in the news conference that witness cooperation became an obstacle in the completion of some of the investigations involving Jones, including one alleged hazing investigation. 

“We’ve had these red flags that go up, but it doesn’t mean that we’re going to get a binding of the policy," Melusky said.

“Frankly most Virginians don’t understand it. Even law enforcement, don’t know how to make it work," Del. Rip Sullivan said, who carried the bill in the 2020 General Assembly after years of prior attempts. 

He told 13News Now it's unclear, based on the still unanswered circumstances surrounding the shooting, whether the "Red Flag" law's process could have been initiated in this instance. 

He does acknowledge it opens up the discussion on greater gun control as a whole. 

“Shines a light on the question of: could it have worked? If the circumstances qualified for a red flag order? Could it have, and should it have worked if people could have used the tool," Sullivan said. 

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