Geraghty: The Problem With Warning Signs, the Mentally Ill, and ‘Red Flag’ Laws


Police create a barrier as arriving guests are greeted by San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller for the joint funeral service for Irma Garcia and husband Joe Garcia at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Wednesday, June 1, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. Irma Garcia was killed in last week’s elementary school shooting; Joe Garcia died two days later. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

We have a national problem of angry young men, disturbed and fantasizing about inflicting horrific violence upon innocent people. These angry young men often make threats to others before carrying out their massacres, but those whom they threaten rarely feel compelled to report the threats to the police because they don’t think it will make a difference, or they fear they will be targeted for retribution after the police contact the person making the threats. It is hard to blame them; in far too many cases, law enforcement does not take significant action. (I think going to police and filing a complaint is a lot to ask of teenagers.)

Similarly, getting a troubled person committed to a mental institution requires someone who cares enough about the troubled person to take that action, and who knows how to navigate the legal process for this “last resort” in mental health. …

From what we now know about the Uvalde shooter, he seems like a slam-dunk case of demonstrating behavior indicating that he was a threat to others.

But my friend Cam Edwards points out that there’s a flaw in most of the red-flag laws on the books in the 19 states that have them. In just about all of the cases, the court system and police seize the firearms of the troubled individual and then . . . that’s it. There’s no requirement for subsequent counseling or mental-health treatment. The state has taken away that person’s guns and called it a day. That emotionally disturbed or threatening person is still free to attack someone with a kitchen knife or try to run down someone in their car. 

As D. J. Jaffe wrote in 2019, “It makes no sense to let people who are known to be seriously mentally ill and believed to be dangerous go without treatment, even if they have had their weapons taken away. It’s not compassionate. And it can be dangerous.”

— Jim Geraghty in What Might Actually Help Stop Mass Shootings


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