Red flag laws seek to temporarily remove guns and prohibit future purchases of gun for those individuals who have been identified as being in crisis and presenting a significant risk of harming themselves or the community at large. There are two opposing views to the passage of red flags laws. This week, I will be examining the arguments in favor of and in opposition of red flag laws.
APM Research Lab conducted a study of 1,000 American adults from July 16 to 21, 2019. This was just two weeks prior to the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.[i] The study found that over three-fourths of those surveyed supported family-initiated red flag laws. For police-initiated red flag laws the support dropped slightly to seventy (70%) percent.[ii] The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence reports in their fact sheet on red flag laws that two other studies conducted in 2015 and 2017 had similar results from those polled.[iii] Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has publicly declared his support of passage of red flag laws at the state level.[iv] Following the shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky and Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut have expressed their support for red flag laws.[v]
The advocates of red flags laws promote the limited number of people who can request the protective order from a court. The laws limit the individuals who can request the order to law enforcement or family members. However, some states have expanded the list of individuals to include romantic partners or cohabitants.[vi]
Proponents of red flag laws state that a judge can order the temporary removal of guns from an individual once evidence has been presented that shows the individual is a risk of inflicting harm on himself or the public at large. The judge can issue the order prior to a hearing on an ex parte basis, but the individual is entitled to a hearing and the opportunity to present his own evidence refuting the petition’s allegations.[vii] This temporary removal of guns will save lives is the argument made.[viii] Proponents of the laws also state that the current laws in effect require evidence to be presented before the order can be issued and include punishments for filing false petitions. The punishments may include fines or jail time.[ix]
Those who oppose red flag laws state that the laws violate due process rights of the individual that the order is issued against.[x] In an opinion piece in the Courier Journal, Thomas Massic and Jim Jordan wrote that there is no evidence that the laws are reducing the frequency of mass shootings in public places where the laws have already been adopted.[xi] For law enforcement and the citizens, the service of the protection order can be hazardous. This is why some sheriffs, such as the sheriff in Weld County, Colorado are announcing that they will not order their deputies to participate in the service of these orders and the seizure of guns from individuals.[xii]
Opponents also argue that red flag laws do little to get help for those in crisis, but instead irritate the person by taking the firearms and leaving them without mental health help.[xiii] Without treatment, someone who is determined to hurt himself or others will find another weapon to use. This was the case with David Krystyniak.[xiv] Police removed firearms from Mr. Krystyniak twice before he used a samurai sword to kill his mother.[xv] He was known to be mentally ill and had a long history of erratic behavior.[xvi] The removal of firearms, with the last removal being on July 14, 2019, did not prevent the death of his mother as he found something else.[xvii]
Next week, I will explore the studies of red flag laws on how effective they are. In the meantime, do your own research on the issue of red flag laws before you decide if red flag laws are a solution to mass shootings.
[i] “What do Americans think about key gun policies?” https://www.apmreasearchlab.org/stories/2019/08/19/survey-guns-america-poll-red-flag-erpo-suicide-homocide-mass-shootings-storage accessed September 5, 2019.
[iii] “What are Extreme Risk Laws?” https://www.bradyunited.org/fact-sheets/what-are-extreme-risk-laws accessed August 29, 2019.
[iv] Stanglio, Doug. “Should guns be seized from those who pose threats? More states saying yes to red flag laws.” https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/05/01/red-flag-laws-temporarily-take-away-guns/35214910027.
[v] Lee, Kurtis. “Here’s what you need to know about ‘red-flag’ laws, the latest trend in gun control.” https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2019-08-14/nationwide-red-flag-gun-laws-have-inceased-but-do-they-work, accessed August 29, 2019.
[vi] Jordan, Jim and Massic, Thomas. “Why red flag laws, background checks and an assault weapons ban won’t stop mass shootings.” https://www.courier-journal.com/story/opinion/2019/08/23/red-flag-laws-universal-background-checks-infringe-constitutional-rights/208839400/, accessed August 29, 2019.
[vii] “What are Extreme Risk Laws?”
[x] “Why red flag laws, background checks, and an assault weapons ban won’t stop mass shootings.”
[xiv] 2nd Amendment Daily News. “Red Flag Failure: Police take guns from Illinois man, kills mother with samurai sword.” https://gunowners.org/red-flag-failure-police-take-guns-from-Illinios-man-kills-mother-with-samurai-sword/ accessed September 5, 2019.