President Donald Trump, along with several notables in the Republican Party — including Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas — have floated so-called “red flag” laws as a means of stopping mass shootings in the United States, saying that if we can keep the mentally ill from buying and owning firearms, well then, that should curb much of the violence.
On the surface, this sounds like common sense. But a caveat: Who decides who’s mentally unfit?
“We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms and that if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process,” Trump said, in remarks delivered from the White House.
That’s just one potentially scary question that requires answering.
“Many of these shootings involved individuals who showed signs of violent behavior that are either ignored or not followed up,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, in announcing a bipartisan piece of legislation aimed at encouraging states to adopt “red flag” laws. “[These] laws will provide the tools for law enforcement to do something about many of these situations before it’s too late.”
You know, Barack Obama tried similarly. Back when he was president, Obama, in his final days in office, quietly put in place a regulation that required those with mental illnesses who collected Social Security checks to submit to additional background checks. He also called for Mental Health First Aid training for teachers and school staffers to help them identify those with possible brain and behavioral disorders that could lead to violence.
Conservatives condemned these provisions, and Obama, as anti-Second Amendment — and rightly so. It was an open-door invite for government to become the arbiter of gun ownership.
Trump, in fact, agreed. He signed a bill in February of 2017 that booted Obama’s mental illness rule.
Now Trump, now Republicans, now conservatives are all calling for somewhat of the same?
“The solutions aren’t obvious,” Crenshaw wrote in a tweet, “even if we pretend they are. But we must try. Let’s start with the TAPS Act. Maybe also implement state ‘red flag’ laws, or gun violence restraining orders. Stop them before they can hurt someone.”
The TAPS Act — the Threat Assessment, Prevention and Safety Act — lays out the standards for government to determine a behavioral threat, and empowers the states to establish “behavioral threat assessment and management unit.”
Ostensibly, the state, through the court system, then has the right to file “extreme risk protection orders,” or ERPOs, against individuals deemed at risk of committing acts of violence. Those deemed “extreme risk” face confiscations of their guns.
Other “red flag” ideas allow for individuals to report family members deemed mentally unfit, and for local authorities to hold the power to assess and decide — and confiscate.
Does anybody see the problems with these laws?
First off: American citizens, simply because of their American citizenship, hold God-given rights to defend self and family — and that includes the right to own and use firearms. That God-given right is enshrined in the Constitution, as the Second Amendment.
Second off: The Second Amendment doesn’t allow for government to determine whether some have rights to own firearms, versus others who don’t. Seriously: Do we really want government holding this power?
Third off: What about the path these “red flag” laws would take under a leftist administration, under Democratic control? Even if Republican leadership carried out “red flag” provisions with a light touch, that’s no guarantee the soon-to-come Democratic leadership would do the same. If “red flag” laws are a crack in the door to firearms’ confiscations and curbs on rights-to-carry, then they would certainly become wide open entry points for Democrats to kill the Second Amendment.
Fourth off: “Red flag” laws bring too many unknowns. What if a family member wanted to get back at another family member for some past grievance? What of anonymous complaints? What of the influences of the American Medical Association, an organization that wants to treat gun violence as a public health crisis, and the various psychiatric organizations in the country — the ones that have spent the better part of Trump’s administration diagnosing him, long-distance, as unfit for office?
“The frequency and scale of these mass shootings demands action,” the AMA just put out, post-Ohio, post-Texas, in a written release. “Common-sense steps … must be advanced by policymakers to prevent avoidable deaths and injuries caused by gun violence. We must also address the pathology of hatred that has too often fueled these mass murders and casualties.”
This group, this AMA group, in 2016 declared gun violence a public health crisis and called for widespread background checks, gun buybacks and further research — research, no doubt, that would lead members to conclude that access to guns should be strictly controlled.
And here’s another thought, a “fifth off,” if you will: What if a husband were deemed mentally incompetent, unfit for his gun ownership, but his wife and live-at-home son weren’t? Would that mean the wife and son would have to relinquish their weapons as well? Hmm, good question. It’d be for the good of the community, dontcha know.
Think about it.
Let’s just stop and think about this for a moment.
These are the types of people who would be empowered, via “red flag” laws, to decide who gets a gun, who doesn’t — who’s fit to carry, who isn’t — who’s mentally stable enough to buy a firearm, who isn’t.
Isn’t that the least bit concerning?
Yes, gun violence in America is out of hand. But let’s remember the source of violence — and it’s not the tool. It’s the human heart, the human mind. The evil of human nature.
Allowing government to assess mental fitness and predict an act of violence, all as a condition of buying or owning or carrying a firearm, seems shaky constitutional business, at best — outright frightening politicking, at worst. Can you say goodbye individual freedoms? That’s the risk here; that’s what’s at stake. And when Obama was president, no one knew that better than conservatives.
Let’s just tread slowly, very slowly on these “red flag” rules. If anything, they raise too many red flags themselves to count.
• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @ckchumley.
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