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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,981
August 8, 2019
Red Flag Laws Not Enough
By Mike McManus

A consensus is emerging in support of so-called "Red Flag Laws" which are intended to restrict potentially dangerous people from access to weapons that kill. They are state laws that authorize courts to issue a special type of protection order, allowing police to temporarily confiscate firearms from people who are deemed by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others.

Some 21 states have passed a Red Flag Law such as Florida, New York, Connecticut, California, Illinois, Virginia and Indiana. Before the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida - only five states had such laws.

California's law is the most sophisticated. It was the first to permit family members to petition the courts directly for orders to confiscate weapons from relatives. Earlier versions of the law required the public to make recommendations to a prosecutor or police who would decide whether to petition the courts.

California's law was enacted after a gunman killed 6 people and wounded 14 others in 2014 near the Santa Barbara campus of the University of California.

New York's law is one of the most recent and allows teachers as well as family members and others to petition the court for protective orders.

Connecticut was the first state to pass a Red Flag Law in 1999 after an accountant at the state lottery fatally stabbed and shot four of his supervisors and then himself.

Red Flag Laws have been stalled in Congress, but some key Republicans recently have supported the initiative. Federal bills would encourage more states to pass such laws by offering federal grants. Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he supports such a bill.

Because a Red Flag Law would not restrict gun access at the federal level, it is seen as more likely than other measures to pass. President Trump has expressed his support, but recently said he would veto it.

The National Rifle Association has offered support for the concept of keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous people, but it has opposed Red Flag Laws, arguing that they go too far in allowing courts to confiscate guns from people who have not committed a crime.

Connecticut's experience has not been encouraging. The gunman who killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School had access to guns even though people who knew him said he had shown troubling signs before the attack.

However, Red Flag measures have removed guns from people believed to be threats to themselves or their families. Research in Connecticut and Indiana found that for every 10 to 20 confiscations under the law, there was one less death than would have been expected.

Those subject to the confiscation orders were 30 times more likely than the average person to commit suicide. Thus the law is reducing the number of suicides.

What ought to be considered are two more important measures with broad support that have passed the House, but been blocked in the Senate:

  • Renewal of the expired ban on the sale of assault weapons, such as the AR-15 which killed 9 people in Dayton last weekend in less than a minute, and high capacity magazines like the 100 round drum of the Dayton shooter.
  • A universal background check system for all gun purchasers, including those on the Internet and those sold at gun shows, and extend waiting periods for would-be gun buyers flagged by the instant check system -a measure which has the support of 80% to 90% of Americans.

Sen. Patrick Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, pledged to revive his background checks bill which fell in a filibuster in 2013. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, said "There's nothing more strongly supported by the American people than background checks."

Blumenthal and other Democratic Senators are demanding that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell bring the Senate back from its August recess to vote on the House-passed bill on background checks.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democratic Senate Leader, argued, "The idea of a
Red Flag law is O.K., but it doesn't substitute" for a universal background checks bill which passed the House by a vote of 240 to 190. It was the first time either chamber has passed a bill intended to reduce gun violence since 1994, a quarter century ago.

It's high time for the Senate to pass a Red Flag bill, a background checks law and an assault weapons ban - before more lives are lost.


Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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