The Unintended Consequences of The Rush to Enact Red Flag Laws

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The senseless murder of 19 children and two teachers at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas is leading to calls for more gun control. To some, “red flag” laws, also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders, seem like the obvious solution. These laws allow judges to seize a person’s guns without a trial, based solely on a written complaint that the person might be a danger to themselves or others. All a judge needs is “reasonable suspicion.” …

It has always been possible to take a dangerous person’s guns away. All 50 states and the federal government have involuntary commitment laws that go by various names: the Baker Act in Florida, for example, or the 5150 code in California. They all require a mental health expert to testify before a judge, but hearings can occur quickly in urgent cases. If those facing a hearing can’t afford a lawyer, the judge provides them with one.

Judges have a lot of flexibility when ruling. For instance, if the person on trial does not agree to voluntary psychiatric treatment, they may be committed involuntarily or have their guns confiscated.

But red flag laws remove all these due process protections. Based only on a written complaint, which could come from a relative, friend, neighbor, or police officer, a judge decides whether to take away a person’s guns. There is no ability to challenge claims or to offer testimony from a mental health care expert.

Gun control advocates argue that the person should not even know that the judge may be deciding to take his or her guns. When a hearing finally takes place up to a month later, if the person in question cannot afford an attorney, they will not be provided with one.  …

We worry that red flag laws could actually increase instances of suicide. …

Simply talking to other people about your depression can be important in overcoming it. But with red flag laws in place, people may have been reluctant to discuss their mental state with others. Police officers also often experience work-related depression. They may bottle up their feelings for fear of losing their guns, and thus their jobs. 

We don’t want a world where police make unannounced predawn raids or people lose their fundamental right to self-defense without a judicial hearing. For some, it’s a matter of life and death.

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