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A tip prevented a mass shooting in Richmond, as communities tout the importance of red flag laws

Gerald M. Smith
Steve Helber
Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith gestures during a press conference at Richmond Virginia Police headquarters, Wednesday July 6, 2022, in Richmond, Va. Police said Wednesday that they thwarted a planned July 4th mass shooting after receiving a tip that led to arrests and the seizure of multiple guns.

Richmond police say a tip prevented a planned mass shooting there on July 4th.

A citizen overheard a conversation about the plans for Dogwood Dell and reported it to the police department. Dogwood Dell is a city park and 2,400 seat amphitheater that normally hosts Independence Day festivities.

Police chief Gerald Smith addressed the media Wednesday.

“It came from someone who did the right thing. It came from a hero," he said. "And that person – we owe several lives to that one person.” 

Two individuals have been arrested. Police say they are not U.S. citizens and have been charged with illegal possession of a firearm. More charges could be introduced as well, as an investigation into the incident is still underway.

During Wednesday's press conference, Richmond officials repeatedly stressed that if citizens see something, they should say something.

Increasing awareness of red flag laws

Recent mass shootings are bringing more attention to red flag laws as a tool to prevent violent incidents. Some communities are trying to increase awareness of Virginia’s law.

Maybe you know someone who is posting questionable things online. Or sharing violent fantasies. Those potential warning signs are why Delegate Rip Sullivan of Arlington says he introduced the red flag law to use the court system to temporarily disarm those people and get them help.

"Certainly if you call the county prosecutor's office or if you call the police non-emergency line, that's how law enforcement often finds out about these things with family members calling in to law enforcement expressing concern about a loved one who may have said or done something that gives them some concern."

The law only works if people identify red flags and take the steps to notify police or prosecutors. But first people need to know about the new law. That's why Safer Country founder Paul Friedman is working with Fairfax County on a public awareness campaign, one he hopes other jurisdictions across Virginia will replicate.

"We have a slogan that we're using to promote this campaign," Friedman notes. "It's very simple. It's 'Prevent a gun tragedy. Speak up.' And we hope that slogan will be used in every jurisdiction around the country that has a red-flag law."

The new federal legislation signed by President Biden includes money for implementing state red flag laws. Delegate Sullivan says he hopes the governor will take advantage of that money to strengthen the use of the law and promote awareness of how it works.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Corrected: July 7, 2022 at 8:48 AM EDT
Paul Friedman's organization is Safer Country, not Safer Communities as originally stated.
Nick Gilmore is a meteorologist, news producer and reporter/anchor for RADIO IQ.
Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.