Regardless of red-flag laws, local police say they handle all calls with caution

Concerned that someone might be a danger to themselves or others? Call the police.


Gun control and red-flag laws have taken the spotlight in recent national discussions following the mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, that left 31 people dead. But neither Minnesota or North Dakota are part of the country’s 17 states that allow officers to remove firearms from people suspected of being dangerous.

Lt. Derik Zimmel of the Grand Forks Police Department said anyone who is concerned about another person being a danger to themselves or others should contact police, regardless of if the person has a firearm.

“Quite frankly it doesn’t matter if it’s a firearm, if it’s a kitchen knife, if it’s a pipe bomb, if it’s a propane tank with a rag stuffed in it, or it’s a bottle of pills, whatever the case may be. If somebody believes or has reason to believe that another person is a danger to themselves or others they are encouraged to contact whomever the most appropriate person may be. A lot of times that’s local law enforcement,” he said.

Police will sometimes voluntarily hold weapons while people seek help, Zimmel said.

Red-flag laws allow courts to issue “extreme risk protection orders” that temporarily ban someone who could be at risk of causing danger to be temporarily banned from owning or purchasing firearms.


Congressional discussion of a bipartisan federal red-flag law has been pushed forward by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., following the recent shootings. However, solid plans are not yet in place.

The call to action comes after deadly shootings in Dayton and El Paso on Aug. 4. The shootings happened within 13 hours of each other. There have been 274 mass shootings in the United States during 2019, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which considers mass shootings as any incident with four or more victims.

Bills failed during the last legislative session that would create red-flag laws in both North Dakota and Minnesota.

Prospective gun purchasers must pass a background check to ensure their eligibility on a state and federal level. Sellers must use the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, which looks for potential criminal history or restraining orders that may prevent someone from purchasing a gun.

In 2017, a constitutional carry law went into effect in North Dakota, making it one of the 15 states that don’t require a permit to carry a handgun in public. In Minnesota, a permit is required to conceal and carry a gun. To receive a permit, gun owners must be older than 21 and undergo a firearm training course.

There is no registry of legal firearms in North Dakota and Zimmel said it would be difficult to estimate how many firearms are involved in crimes.

"We know in every single home in Grand Forks – every single home everywhere – there are weapons," he said. "There are weapons in your home, there are weapons in everybody's home, most businesses have weapons, it doesn't have to be a firearm. We go in with the assumption there's a weapon in place."


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Lt. Derik Zimmel discusses information about the police standoff with an armed man at the Budget Inn Motel, in Grand Forks, N.D. on June 15, 2016. (Meg Oliphant/Grand Forks Herald)

Tess covers crime and courts for the Grand Forks Herald. She previously worked for the Associated Press, Lincoln Journal Star, Omaha World-Herald and The Voice News. Reach her at (701) 780-1267, or on Twitter @ByTessWilliams.
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