A look at “red flags” laws (that a non-gun owner might understand)
Everyone agrees that certain people are a danger to society, and that bad people sometimes use guns to commit crimes and to injure or kill others. Most even agree that people who are “crazy” are not entitled to their Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms. And no one likes an angry man with a gun. We all wish something could be done to stop that person before they harm themselves or others.
So why are gun rights advocates opposed to “red flag” laws being proposed by many legislators, which would allow police to take firearms from people in the above conditions without court action?
First, because there are already plenty of ways that police can and often do seize firearms from people. When we're told that all these ways to legally seize firearms don’t work, it begs the question - why would anyone think this way would work to solve any real problems?
Second, while some argue that while "red flag laws may not help, but if it doesn't hurt either, then what is the harm in trying?," the facts disagree with the "if it doesn't hurt" assertion.
Let’s examine these laws with an analogy to illustrate why gun owners have concerns:
Most people agree that road rage is a serious issue. We know it costs people their lives. Similarly, texting and driving are proven to be a bad combination. We all wish people didn’t get distracted or angry while driving, because it can wreck others' property and kill innocent people. Cyber bullying is yet another societal ill we would be better without.
Applying the same "what's the harm in trying" logic to phones and cars, consider the following scenario:
You are having a bad day at work. You got passed up for a promotion, and a co-worker is taking credit for your good idea, leading to conflict in the office. Meanwhile, there has been an small emergency at home, and your spouse and kids keep calling and texting you. You are distraught with worry.
Finally, your work day is done and you are ready to head home. But unbeknownst to you, your idea-stealing co-worker has decided that the stress of your day has made you unsafe to drive, especially while in possession of a cell phone as a potential distraction. Maybe they are concerned about your safety, or maybe they are just vindictive, but either way, they call the police and report that you could be a danger driving home.
When you get to the parking spot, you find the police impounding your car. You are a good person without a criminal record. You haven't done anything wrong at work. How can this happen to you!?
Don’t worry, the officer tells you - you can go to court to prove you were safe to drive in a few days or weeks. You can walk home today, or take the bus. You might have called a taxi, but since it's a potential distraction, and could also be used to lash out at your co-worker later, your cell phone has been confiscated too.
Yes, the officer agrees, it’s a little inconvenient to not have a car or phone, but your friends can help you, and you don’t really “need” those things. They are just a convenience, one you can surely do without for a couple weeks in the interest of safety of so many others you might have harmed.
You’ll need to pay for an attorney to explain that having a bad day does not mean you were going to engage in road rage or cyber bullying. But you have a good case and should prevail. A couple thousand dollars is a small price to pay to ensure the safety of others on your bad day, right? Certainly you should be OK with that.
Weeks later, you prevail and the judge agrees you were not a risk. You can have your car and phone back. Unfortunately, when you go to pick it up, you discover that your car been left out in the rain with the windows down. It now has electrical problems and mold growing in the carpet and upholstery. It might cost more to fix than your car is worth, but hey, it’s a small price to pay for safer streets and Facebook pages. Doesn’t everyone agree?
If you think the above example is ridiculous because there is no reason to suggest gun owners would have their property taken without reason, have to pay thousands to get their own property back from the government, and had their guns destroyed because the government didn’t properly store and care for them, you are wrong. All of the above already happens to gun owners far more often than most people are aware. And any good person aware of such abuses would oppose a new way for government to do such damage to it’s people.
Ahh – I can hear the gun ban extremists' cries: “There is a big difference between a gun and a car or phone.” And on this point I fully agree. The phone and car are convenience items and privileges. Bearing arms is a constitutionally-protected civil right. Clearly such rights are more important and should be legally harder for our government to deny to its citizens.
Despite these facts, and despite this potential for abuse and overreach, “red flag” laws are still compelling to some. So I'd like to make a suggestion: How about we test these laws out on cars or phones and see how society likes them?
As long as you never give a co-worker or an ex a reason to be mad at you, you have nothing to fear. After we’ve proved the concepts works good with items of convenience, then you can come talk to us about taking the guns many use to protect our own lives.
Jim Irvine is President of the Buckeye Firearms Association. He is also recipient of the NRA-ILA's 2011 "Jay M. Littlefield Volunteer of the Year Award," the CCRKBA's 2012 "Gun Rights Defender of the Year Award," and the SAF's 2015 "Defender of Freedom Award."