FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — If you or someone you know and love is at risk of gun violence -- at risk of hurting themselves or others -- reach out.
A new and apparently little-known Virginia law gives police and prosecutors a new tool to head off shootings. On Monday, Fairfax County leaders urged people at risk to send up a red flag.
More than a quarter of the homicides in Fairfax County so far this year involve a son allegedly killing a parent or sibling. They happened in Reston, Clifton, Burke, and Falls Church.
All too often, experts say, a gun can help send a family quarrel spiraling into murder.
Last year, Virginia became the 19th state to pass what's called a "Red Flag Law." It gives police a chance to investigate and seek a court order to temporarily remove guns from people who are an imminent danger to themselves or others. Anyone subjected to an Emergency Substantial Risk Order has the right to a court hearing within 14 days. If they can convince a judge they’re not a threat, their firearms must be returned. If not, the order can be extended up to 180 days, and then, following another hearing, extended.
"My message is we want to save lives in Fairfax," said Jeffrey McKay, (D) Chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
Fairfax County is launching a publicity campaign urging victims to "Speak Up: Prevent a Gun Tragedy."
"If you're at risk of gun violence, or you're being intimidated by someone who is threatening you with a weapon, we want you to call and report that," said McKay.
Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin (R-Virginia) promised in Fairfax County during the campaign that he would push back on some of the gun laws passed by Democrats. Some gun rights activists want the red flag law repealed. Critics say the law lets the state deprive a gun owner of his Second Amendment rights before he's even committed a crime.
"A lot of times, people haven't yet committed the crime," said Commonwealth's Attorney Steve Descano. "And that's what we're trying to prevent. We're trying to prevent the tragedy from happening."
The prosecutor says judges have approved the use of red flag law just 18 times in Fairfax County since it took effect. "That's 18 potential shootings averted, 18 potential murders not committed," he said.
The holidays can be a tough time for some families. Advocates said the red flag law might save lives.
"What I'm seeing these days is brutal violence," one officer said. "Some of our victims are not shot once. It's dozens of times."