Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law 3L students Chaka Coleman and Katie Whitley are no strangers to gun violence. Its reach has impacted the women both personally and professionally.
For Coleman, the impacts of gun violence were seen almost daily during her time serving as a bailiff in the Marion County courts. Whitley, who previously worked as a middle school science teacher, has attended funerals for at least nine of her young students killed by gun violence.
“I lost one of those students just weeks after his graduation,” she told a crowd gathered at the law school’s Friday event focused on addressing gun laws and violence.
The Indianapolis law school hosted national gun law and gun violence experts at the Program on Law and State Government’s fellowship symposium exploring state governments’ responses to gun violence across the United States.
Titled “Gun Laws and Gun Violence: State Governments Making a Difference,” several speakers presented research, expert opinions and proposed solutions to addressing gun violence in Indiana — including Coleman and Whitley, who both presented their fellowship research.
Coleman discussed the relationship between data collection and gun violence prevention. For her part, Whitley shared her work exploring how state governments leverage public dollars for intervention strategies and comprehensive reentry initiatives.
The event offered a virtual component in the morning, with presentations discussing topics including the Second Amendment and community violence intervention strategies. An audience consisting of law professors, students and other members of the community later sat at attention in the law school’s Wynne Courtroom during the afternoon panel discussion centered on Indiana’s Jake Laird Law — also known as the red flag law.
Coleman, serving as moderator, posed questions to the panelists, including former U.S. Congresswoman Susan Brooks, Indiana State Police legal counsel and legislative director Lt. Brad Hoffeditz, Indianapolis attorney Guy Relford and Marion Superior Judge Amy Jones.
Brooks delved into her efforts to introduce legislation at the federal level similar to Indiana’s pioneering red flag statute, enacted in 2005 in honor of fallen police officer Jake Laird.
“I went to Congress right after (the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting) and thought we could be get both parties to come together. Almost all of those school shootings involved mental-health-issued shooters,” Brooks said.
Indianapolis attorney Guy Relford said the Jake Laird Law is meant to be a bridge for individuals who have committed a crime and need their guns to be removed, versus people who have not committed a crime but may be in a situation where they need to be separated from their firearms.
“But a lot of times people want to treat these individuals like they are the next school shooter or mass murderer, when in fact a lot of things can result in the filing of a red flag case and the seizure of a firearm much more than someone actually being a threat,” Relford said.
Under Indiana’s original red flag law, police or courts are permitted to seize guns from people who show warning signs of mental instability and could be deemed “dangerous” under Indiana Code § 35-47-14. But Relford heavily advocated for the 2019 amendment of Indiana’s law to define a “dangerous” person as an individual who presents an imminent risk of personal injury to himself or to another individual.
Judge Jones, who mostly sees red flag cases come before her bench, walked through the process of how to handle such cases under the law. So far this year, she said, 65 red flag cases have been filed in Marion County.
Hoffeditz recounted the first time he had to utilize the Jake Laird Law not long after it was enacted in 2005. A Whiteland man who had been fired from his job had threatened his boss, saying he would get his guns, hunt the man down and kill him.
Hoffeditz had to help instruct local law enforcement on how to proceed with the then-new red flag law. The family ultimately handed over their sons’ guns with no problems, and although it could have been an idle threat, Hoffeditz said they would never know.
“I can do my job every day and I’ll never know how many lives I save, but that’s the goal of the Jake Laird Law,” he said.
Additional discussions during the symposium addressed the trauma of gun violence and hospital-based intervention programs as well as a book addressing the impact on American children in a time of gun violence.