So-called “red flag laws” are the hot new craze in gun control circles. Multiple states have enacted them in the past couple of years, meeting with mixed results. These laws allow people to file complaints about individuals who appear to be unhinged, posing a potential threat to themselves or others. Law enforcement can then “temporarily” confiscate that person’s firearms while an investigation is conducted. The one common theme among these efforts is that the response from the public has been, well… enthusiastic. But how many of the individuals identified in such cases actually turn out to be dangerous? We should know soon enough because there have been more than 1,700 ref flag law requests received over the past year. (Free Beacon)
More than 1,700 court orders to temporarily seize guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others across more than a dozen states were issued last year, according to an Associated Press report published this week.
Red Flag laws became the most popular gun legislation at the state level, surpassing permitless or “constitutional” carry, after the murder of 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Fla., last year. Florida, Delaware, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Vermont all passed versions of the law in the past year. Connecticut, California, Indiana, Washington, and Oregon already had similar policies before 2018.
The laws are intended to allow certain people to petition a court in order to have firearms temporarily taken from somebody they believe to be a threat to themselves or others.
All of these laws deserve close scrutiny, whether they are already in place or still under consideration. Despite being an enthusiastic defender of Second Amendment rights, I’m not willing to simply call for a complete ban on such legislation if it’s handled properly. (Even the NRA isn’t going that far, preferring to review them on a case by case basis.) But when crafted with too heavy of a hand, they can quickly get out of control.
We should keep in mind that these laws can rapidly produce many complications for both law enforcement and gun owners. When the new red flag law went into effect in Maryland, one gun owner was shot and killed during a confrontation with the police in the first month. Further, Charm City quickly built up a backlog of such requests because they received literally hundreds of these reports in the first few weeks. Each one takes time to investigate thoroughly and bring to an appropriate resolution.
If we’re going to have red flag laws, the resources to process all of the citizen reports in a timely fashion must be included in the legislation. Failing to do so will either lead to unstable people keeping their firearms for extended periods of time after being reported or wrongly accused gun owners losing their firearms for months until they can “prove they are sane.”
Further, gun owners accused of being unstable need a way to defend themselves from spurious charges. Are the police getting a legitimate report of a violent person threatening to shoot people or a tip from an angry girlfriend who’s trying to cause trouble for her ex? These are tricky questions and can eat up a lot of investigative time. Getting it wrong (in either direction) can result in either a shooting that we might have been able to stop or the violation of an innocent citizen’s constitutional rights. Neither is an acceptable outcome.
As I said above, I’m trying to avoid a knee-jerk reaction to the arrival of these red flag laws. There does seem to be the potential here to do some good. But the risks involved are obvious and we have to do this the right way if it’s going to be done at all.