Red flag laws, gun restrictions questioned following missed warning signs

Threats of violence. Disturbing online posts. An attempted suicide.

Earlier warning signs surrounding the Highland Park, Illinois mass shooting suspect’s mental state is raising new questions about his ability to legally access guns.

Robert Crimo III was charged with seven counts of first degree murder Tuesday after investigators say he opened fired on a crowd during a Fourth of July celebration killing seven and wounding dozens.

Police said they had previous encounters with Crimo, including in 2019 after a family member reported he was going to "kill everyone" and police found 16 knives, a dagger, and a sword in his home. He also attempted suicide that year, according to investigators.

But they did not arrest him or commit him to a hospital.

"That wasn’t an option at the time," Lake County Major Crime Task Force Spokesperson Chris Covelli said. "It didn’t fall into that category. Nonetheless, Highland Park Police did notify [Illinois] State Police of that."

That did not prevent Crimo from legally obtaining five firearms, including the rifle police say he purchased to carry out the attack, which has reignited the gun control debate.

Illinois is one of 19 states, including California, with red flag lawS, which allow for the temporary removal of firearms, specifically from those considered a danger to themselves or others.

Still, even with incidents involving Crimo, no petition for a psychiatric hold or a push for restricting firearms came from family or police.

"Law enforcement did have this person on their radar so they could have petitioned a court for an order," said Attorney Allison Anderman with Giffords Law Center. "Law enforcement officers did not maybe know about the law or know which situation it was most appropriate to use the law in."

She said the failure to use red flag laws oftentimes lies in their implementation.

New bipartisan, federal gun legislation just passed last month may fix that. Funding is included to those states with the laws to educate and create policies of when and how to restrict firearms access to certain people.

However, if a crime is not committed, it can be more difficult and police can become stuck.

"Their job is not to prevent a future mass shooting even though it seems like now they should have done that," said Dr. Amy Barnhorst with the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry. "Their job is to handle the crisis right then and there and help this suicidal kid in whatever way they can."

Barnhorst said that mass shootings only make up a fraction of gun violence. She warned with the Internet and social media, young, impressionable, men can connect with others who may be disturbed or have thoughts of violence and arming themselves.

Mental health experts say the only way to prevent dangerous people from accessing guns is to restrict their access.

"There’s not one thing that’s going to fix the gun violence problem in this county. Just passing more red flag laws – that’s not enough," she said. "Just providing people with more counselors, that’s not enough. Just doing better suicide prevention, that’s not enough. But all these things -- they can layer up and we can make some progress."

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @BrooksKTVU