They are called Extreme-Risk Protection Orders. Some people call them Red-Flag Gun Confiscation. Whatever you call it, we’re supposed to call the cops and stop a bad man with a gun before he hurts someone. That sounds more like the script from a cop-drama on TV than what happens in real life. In practice, these laws are designed for abuse. We’ve already seen them fail to stop violent crime. We’ve also seen police kill gun owners during early morning Red-Flag raids. At best, innocent individuals have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get their rights restored after they’ve been served with a red-flag order.
Is that the unavoidable price of freedom, or is that the bigoted abuse of a disfavored minority for political gain? These gun confiscation laws were proposed so that politicians could get facetime on the news and could increase their campaign contributions. When you read beyond the press releases, you’ll see that these laws are a tax on gun owners..particularly on poor gun owners. We know that violence is a very tough problem to solve and red-flag gun confiscation isn’t the solution.
We never know enough to be sure. Do you know if someone will be violent? We think we do, but our memory plays tricks on us. We remember the time a local kid was arrested and we said, “I knew he was headed for trouble.” We forget all the times when we find out that one spouse has fled their home, and all we can say is, “I never knew there was a problem.” We like to think we’re right, so we remember our good guesses and forget the times we were wrong..sometimes sadly wrong.
There are real cases where family members or doctors have legitimate concerns that someone is a threat to themselves or to others. We see the pleas from family members in hindsight after there was an act of violence. We’ve also seen examples where an abusive partner called the cops on an innocent spouse or romantic partner. We’d like a law that made it easy for ordinary people to ask the police to disarm someone who will clearly be violent, while at the same time protecting the rights of the accused. Let’s see how well that works in practice.
Doctors and judges see a lot of people. They are highly educated and trained for that job. They have lots of experience in exercising their professional judgement. They should be in an excellent position to tell if one of their patients or clients was going to be violent. Unfortunately, their track record at predicting violence is horrible.
We looked at mass murderers during the last two decades. There is nothing subtle about their mental condition, and almost two thirds of them had psychiatric counseling. Most had previous contacts with law enforcement as well. Only one of these individuals was clinically diagnosed and adjudicated as a danger to himself or others..in the last twenty years. We have a terrible record of predicting violent behavior even when we’re looking at our most violent citizens. Our track record is worse when we look at ordinary people.
Psychiatrists who have access to complete medical records often have to assess if a patient will be violent. They make that assessment for the safety of the patient and for the safety of hospital staff. These doctors make the correct prediction 60% of the time when they are predicting behavior for the next 24 hours. That means they are slightly better than flipping a coin while they are looking a day into the future. They have no idea if the patient will be violent in the next week, the next month, or the next year. These highly educated and dedicated specialists can’t predict the future. That record will get worse as red-flag laws let non-professionals disarm near strangers with a phone call.
Today, we want a court judge to do the impossible with Red-Flag laws. Your vindictive relative can make a phone call based on a post in social media. You’ll have your firearms confiscated..at no cost to them, but at the cost of tens-of-thousands of dollars to you.. or worse. We’ve already killed gun owners during midnight police raids instigated by a Red-Flag complaint. The dead gun owner had no record of violent or criminal behavior.
Is murder a fatal fault in the gun confiscation process,
or is it a feature that anti-gun politicians wrote into the law from the beginning?
Red-Flag laws lead to firearms confiscation on the basis of an accusation. Gun owners accused under Red-Flag laws are involved in the legal system before they have any chance to submit facts in front of a judge. That one-sided argument means these laws are designed for abuse.
Domestic abusers use Red-Flag laws to disarm their innocent partners. Does confiscating the tools of self-defense make the abused partner safer or does it leave the innocent partner more vulnerable? Red-flag laws let abusers subjugate their victims in ways the abusers could never accomplish on their own.
A vindictive spouse uses Red-Flag laws as a legal weapon during a divorce and custody fight. Does that really benefit anyone.. other than the lawyers? We might want to save lives, but getting the police involved has real risks.
Are those risks justified? People who have their concealed carry permits are the most law abiding segment of our society. Licensed concealed carry holders are among the most law abiding group of people on the planet. People with their carry permits are more law abiding and less violent than the police. Who are we making safer when we disarm the safest group of people we can find? Concealed carry holders are several times less likely than the police to shoot innocent people. Who is at risk when the police knock in the dark of night to confiscate legally owned firearms?
Who are we making safer when we disarm the safest group of people on the planet?
Of course there is a real concern to disarm people who have made threats. There is also a real concern with a system that is so easily abused. Even the ACLU said that red-flag gun laws need to be revised so they are fair to the accused. How can we make the system respond to both concerns?
The obvious solution is to go before a judge. Unfortunately, that often means that the side with the most money and lawyers carries the day. Few of us can afford tens of thousands of dollars to defend ourselves against a groundless accusation. Can you hire a lawyer in the next 24 hours and come up with tens of thousands of dollars in order to protect your rights? Is the right of self-defense only for rich men with lawyers?
An abused partner shouldn’t have to give up their firearms, their tools of personal protection, simply because they don’t have enough time and money to protect their rights in court on short notice. We want to do the right thing, but disarming the innocent party puts them at greater risk rather than making us all safer.
The less obvious solution is to have the state pay the legal fees when an innocent person has to defend their rights in court. If public safety were the real concern, then politicians should be eager to pay those legal fees and court costs. We could at least ask the accuser to put up a bond to cover the costs of false accusations. Can the accused deduct his court and lawyer fees from her taxes?
That isn’t what the politicians want. It is easy to demonize honest gun owners when the news is full of criminals committing violence. As I said, licensed gun owners are extremely law abiding and non-violent. It is easy for bigoted politicians and the the media to blame gun owners even though the legal gun owner is innocent.
There is a bias in the politicians press release and in the slanted news. The media and the politicians ignore the fact that firearms are used to save lives far more often than they are used to take them. News stories about violence hold an audience. Stories about violence get politicians in front of TV cameras. The good guy with a gun that stopped a crime from happening isn’t even considered news. The scales are tipped; tragedy becomes front page news while the triumph of a life saved is hardly mentioned.
You can easily test this claim of bias for yourself. You probably remember the names of several mass murderers. You might remember where they killed. You’re unusual if you know the names or actions of the armed citizens who stopped mass murderers. The fact that you know one but not the other is the result of bias.
Saving lives doesn’t fit the story that reporters..or politicians..want to sell. Red-flag gun confiscation laws are more about the bigoted story that guns and gun owners are evil than about saving lives.