Katko Town Hall

Rep. John Katko listens to Auburn Mayor Michael Quill during a panel discussion at Cayuga Community College Aug. 30, 2018.

Seven months ago, the Auburn Police Department faced a dangerous situation. Now, U.S. Rep. John Katko is hoping to give them a mechanism to help if similar incidents occur.

Katko, R-Camillus, announced on Friday that he has introduced the Protecting our Communities and Right Act, a bill that would encourage states to adopt so-called "red flag" laws. Red flag laws allow family members or police to seek a court order to temporarily remove guns from a person if they are deemed to be a threat to themselves or others. 

Under Katko's legislation, states would be given priority for federal Community Oriented Policing Services grants if they adopt red flag laws with certain provisions, such as ensuring due process rights for individuals who may be a threat to others and a clear and convincing evidence standard for removing guns from the individual. 

A state's red flags laws also must limit ex-parte orders to purchasing or receiving firearms, according to Katko's office, and there must be a clear expiration date of no more than one year after a judge issues an order removing guns from an individual. The state must also establish a way to "expeditiously return" guns to the owner once the order expires or is terminated. 

Katko first revealed his plans for a red flag bill during a telephone town hall meeting over the summer. There is bipartisan support for the legislation. The early cosponsors include U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat who also teamed with Katko to introduce a bill earlier this year that would establish a federal commission to examine mass shootings. 

Other cosponsors include U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, and Republican U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia. 

"With gun violence continuing to plague our nation, our constituents have demanded action, and rightfully so," Katko said in a statement. 

While Katko was motivated to explore a red flag proposal after mass shootings, most notably the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, he also wanted to take action following an incident that occurred in Auburn earlier this year. 

In February, a suicidal subject was reported after they called the Department of Veterans Affairs' crisis hotline and threatened to harm themselves, the public and police if they responded.

The Auburn Police Department's emergency response and hostage negotiation teams responded to the residence and attempted to contact the individual. After more than two hours, they were able to communicate with the subject by phone. The individual, whose name was withheld, was taken into custody for a mental health evaluation and treatment, police said at the time. 

Katko has said in past public statements that Auburn Police Chief Shawn Butler contacted him after the incident. Guns were found in the home, but there was no mechanism in place for the police to have the weapons removed from the individual's possession. 

In a statement Friday, Butler praised Katko's proposal. 

"By sponsoring and hopefully passing this common sense legislation, it will give law enforcement another tool to hopefully prevent another senseless tragedy from occurring by giving police an avenue to petition the court for the removal of firearms from those exhibiting 'red flag' warning signs of potentially suicidal or other violent behavior associated with behavioral health issues," he said.

Butler added, "Also, understanding that due process is a crucial component to this legislation ensures that the highest standards of proof are met prior to the removal of any such firearms possessed." 

States, including New York, have either adopted or considered red flag laws. Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his proposal this year to use extreme risk protection orders to temporarily confiscate guns from those who pose a threat to themselves or others. 

Katko's bill wouldn't establish a federal red flag law, but instead provide financial incentives to states that adopt such laws — so long as they follow the provisions outlined in the proposal. 

"The bipartisan measure I've introduced today prioritizes the safety of our communities by giving local law enforcement the tools that they need to protect individuals who may be a danger to themselves or others, while ensuring constitutional due process rights are afforded," Katko said. 

Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.