Red Flag Laws: Solution or Problem?

Chase Matheson - April 12, 2023
Red Flag Laws are one of the most controversial legislative measures being proposed in Tennessee in the wake of the Covenant School Shooting. Even if the Governor wants to call them "Order of Protection" laws, the noble intention behind them is to prevent gun violence by identifying potentially dangerous individuals and removing their firearms before they can harm themselves or others. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and Red Flag Laws are no exception. While they may seem like a solution, they can also be a problem in their own right.  
So where is the line with Red Flag Laws? If a shrink "thinks" someone will commit a violent act, is that enough to take someone's guns? There's no crime, just suspicion. Taking their guns before due process violates their 5th and 14th Amendment rights. If someone's says to a shrink "I'm gonna do this violent act," is that enough to take their guns? Well, it is already a crime that would, or should, result in either the individual being committed involuntarily or being put in jail if it were said to someone else and supported by evidence.

What if they said, "I think I'm going to do this violent act!"? If it is said to a shrink, they could reasonably conclude that the person is a danger to themselves or others--which is again grounds for commitment to a mental facility. If upon reexamination and treatment they are still a danger? If so why release them? This proves, maybe, that Red Flag laws do make certain one thing: It's not the guns' fault these crimes are occurring. It's clearly the people committing the criminal acts whom are the problem.
Propose someone is too dangerous to own a gun BEFORE they've committed a crime, then arent they are too dangerous to be out on the streets? You know that knives and pressure cookers exist, right? There are vehicles available to anyone with $1000 right now on Facebook Marketplace. There are lots of other things that could be turned into weapons by a deranged psycho, not just guns. 

How would it be enforced?

Then there's the problems with the logistics of enforcement. Who investigates and adjudicates these claims? The regular police and court system? They are understaffed, underfunded and backlogged to Belize already. What about Social workers? They are in the same situation as police officers, and they don't usually carry a gun. That's a dangerous situation. If we don't choose to overload our already understaffed workforce, the most logical conclusion is that we would create a special department.

This department would judge its success off what? Would it be the absence of school shootings? By that standard most cities already 0. So maybe their success would be based off the number of firearms they seize? Could it be that the more guns they take, the more funding they get? Nothing could go wrong there! 

Who Gets "Red-Flagged?"

Additionally there are problems with the identification of people who have a "red flag." The thought of allowing someone's family or close friends to report them is well-intentioned, but absent any real experience. A "Report a Threat" hotline will certainly result in a plethora of spiteful people abusing the system, with the occasional person reporting a genuine cause for concern. 

What happens when that system fails? Will the powers that be scrap the current system in favor of a newer more intrusive--and expensive--plan? Or will they just "improve it," broadening their reach slowly with each improvement. The possibilities for abuse are astronomical. 

Finally, lets look at Red Flag Laws in practice. How many people would a psych evaluation prevent from getting a gun on any given day? Millions of firearms are sold each year, so would you say, probably a lot?  How many mass shootings are there in comparison to guns purchased? Statistically speaking, very few. Any number of shootings is tragic, but nonetheless it's statistically a very small number in this regard. So how many people who never would have committed an act of violence will be prevented from purchasing a firearm because they "checked all the boxes?"

Who does the Constitution Protect?

Doesn't the individual with a mental disorder deserve the right to protect himself as much as any person who hasn't committed a crime? Similarly, does this person's Constitutional right to Due Process come out of their pocket? Is that fair? They will almost certainly have to pay an attorney to navigate the local rules of court and defend them against these allegations. All just to keep his guns? Or worse, prove their innocence in order to get them back? 

What qualifies as a "Red Flag" and being dangerous? A statement? A Facebook post? Diagnosed Mental Disorders? I bet I could find someone somewhere to say about anything is a "Red Flag." Election Deniers? Some people have called them Domestic Terrorists! Surely Red Flag laws would have Domestic Terrorists stripped of their weapons! Right? What about Trans people? Anti-vaxxers? Do they throw up a Red Flag? Someone who called the school principal while pissed off? Is simply having a certain mental disorder enough? Or does a Red Flag Law require an action be taken or statement made? What qualifies as such under a Red Flag law that isn't already illegal or otherwise able to be addressed? As the saying goes, "and then they came for me."
Quite obviously there are many reasons voters should be skeptical of Red Flag Laws. The propensity for these laws to be weaponized is immense. The specifics of these laws are always vague. The individuals suggesting these laws were too shortsighted to see their stunt with the Tennessee 3 would backfire in their face--either that or they did it on purpose to drun up liberal support--are those the kind of people you trust with your Constitutional rights?

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