We’ve discussed the various “red flag” laws being passed by several states here before, though none of these proposals have wound up being very satisfying in my opinion. The biggest problem with some of the ones we’ve looked at is the potential for abuse and the lack of due process for gun owners. That doesn’t mean that these proposals are completely lacking in merit, but they’re all problematic in their own way.
Now, however, we may be seeing one bill shaping up that, while still not ideal, might be at least somewhat less bad than the others. The state of Maine has drafted a proposal that addresses some of the concerns I raised above. Our colleague Tom Knighton at Bearing Arms breaks down the pending legislation as described in the Bangor Daily News.
The rough language of a compromise measure that is expected to supplant a so-called “red flag” proposal by linking gun seizures to assessments of mental health conditions under existing Maine protective custody laws was released on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Senate Republicans office released a rough draft of a proposed compromise deal. It would beef up the state’s protective custody laws by adding a provision to existing protective custody laws to allow medical professionals to determine whether a person with a mental health condition has a weapon that increases the risk of harm to themselves or others.
If that determination is made, the person would surrender weapons to police until a hearing that would be held within 14 days. At that hearing, a judge could extend those terms for a year. The person would get weapons back when a court deems them to no longer present a major threat.
As Tom points out, this is still hardly an ideal situation, but it has some safeguards built in that might make is somewhat more palatable for advocates of gun rights.
In other words, it would provide short term disarmament–which is still less than ideal, but it’s also only two weeks–until a formal hearing is held in which case the individual either gets his guns back or the judge rules they can’t for a specific period of time. Either way, at least due process has been observed.
I can’t say that I’m thrilled with this by any stretch, but it’s one of the better proposals being discussed. No one is going to be happy with it, which is often considered a sign that it’s a good and proper compromise. That’s fair.
One of the biggest concerns I’ve had with laws being passed in other states is the possibility that a ticked off ex-wife or sibling can pick up a phone, make up a story and cause somebody to lose their firearms for months or years while they fight an expensive court battle to get them back. In this draft of Maine’s legislation, that possibility is at least greatly reduced. Both a judge and a mental health professional are brought into the loop before any action is taken. And even if a seizure is deemed warranted, the state only has two weeks to prove their case and the gun owner has the ability to immediately fight the decision.
Again, nobody wants to see gun confiscation from law abiding owners. But the reality is that some people can and do grow more unstable over time. If they’ve reached the point where they’ve already engaged in violent behavior and threatened to do more, a time out for professional evaluation is a responsible course of action. It certainly won’t be able to prevent all shootings, but identifying people who have mentally lost the narrative and become erratic shouldn’t be seen as a huge encroachment on Second Amendment rights.