The Most Likely — But Still Unlikely — Gun Bill: A “Red Flag” Law

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Finding the quintessence of a broken Congress is difficult – not because of a lack of options, but because of an overabundance of them.

But quite high on that list is the lack of any real debate about the so-called “red flag laws.”

A series of mass shootings has again sparked discussions about what, if anything, can be done. The tragedy has not forced the hand of Congress before, even when visited by elementary school children. Why would that change after the murders of 19 children in Uvalde, Texas, when it didn’t after the murders of 20 in Newtown, Connecticut?

A big part of the difficulty is finding something that could even theoretically win the support of enough Republicans to join Democrats in crossing the 60-vote Senate threshold. But if there was such a thing, it could well be a red flag law – which would allow law enforcement, if given a court order, to seize a person’s firearms. considered a danger to themselves or to others.

Many Republicans suggested that would be something they could go along with.

GOP senators like Lindsey O. Graham (SC), Marco Rubio (Florida) and Rick Scott (Florida), in particular, have leaned on the idea, with the last two senators coming from the state where a gunman has killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018. Florida is one of only two red states to have such a law, which was passed shortly after Parkland, like other states. President Donald Trump floated the idea after a series of such massacres in 2019. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (right) included a red flag proposal in a 2018 school safety plan. Texas Governor Greg Abbott (right) also said in a 2018 proposal that a “properly crafted” red flag law could prevent such tragedies.

Even the National Rifle Association at one point seemed to suggest it might give a bit on this issue – even though it has strongly opposed virtually any new gun legislation, viewing it as a slippery slope. supposed.

Trump, of course, quickly backed down from his threats to take on the NRA. Ducey would later claim that he never really supported a red flag law and promised that his watch would not be passed. Likewise, Abbott sought to clarify that he had not actually supported a red flag law; he had simply suggested that the legislator consider one.

It’s a familiar dance now. Republicans toss ideas in the aftermath of tragedy. Then time passes, gun rights supporters mobilize, and everything falters.

Surely there are many obstacles to adopting something, even if the general idea garners bipartisan support.

The hurdles start with the idea that perhaps this should be a state rather than federal issue, as some Republicans suggested after the Uvalde tragedy.

There is also the matter of how you implement it. Some states allow family members or school officials to request court orders, while others require requests to come from law enforcement. For this reason, among others, the states that have such laws — 19 plus the District of Columbia — have seen wildly different results when it comes to the number of troubled people who have had their guns taken away from them.

There is also the question of efficiency. A 2019 study identified 20 cases in which California’s red flag law could have prevented a mass shooting. Another, focused on Connecticut and Indiana, links such laws to lower rates of firearm suicide. But it’s hard to draw definitive conclusions because it involves weighing counterfactuals.

Critics will point out that New York has a red flag law and that the shooter in the recent Buffalo tragedy was reportedly flagged for psychiatric evaluation after he made a threat against his school. But no petition was filed, apparently because the threat was not considered to meet the specific criteria of the law.

And indeed, such a proposal would be a tough vote for Republicans, given longstanding suspicions that virtually any new gun legislation could be overzealously enforced and conflict with the Second Amendment.

But Conservative commentator David French, while acknowledging those concerns, made an impassioned plea to find a way to make it work. And in doing so, he prominently quotes one of those Republicans who suggested that red flag laws might indeed be effective.

Ducey, in his 2018 Safe Schools Program, broke down the largest mass shootings at the time and noted that virtually all included warning signs that could have reached the threshold of a red flag law. .

“In 5 of the 5 deadliest school shootings, the killers showed early warning signs of a potential threat to themselves or others,” Ducey’s program said in 2018. “This astonishing fact illustrates the need for a legal tool to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals.

This again appears to be the case in the recent mass shootings. Although New York’s red flag law was ineffective in the recent Buffalo Massacre, this seems to owe more to the limitations of the law and how it was implemented in this particular case than to any error more general. And at Uvalde, as the Washington Post team notes, there were plenty of warning signs regarding the 18-year-old shooter. We can’t know if they would have reached the threshold level of a red flag law, but no law will stop every mass shooting. And as Ducey’s presentation noted, we have plenty of precedents to study in the construction of such laws.

Of course, the Ducey case also reinforces the bleak prospects of this type of law. Although he included the proposal in his 2018 platform, in February 2019 he called the idea that he supported a red flag law “misinformation”.

“I want people to know that there is no red flag law in Arizona,” Ducey said. “As long as I am governor, there will be no red flag law in the state of Arizona.”

Ducey seemed to draw a line between his proposal – dubbed the “Serious Threat Protection Order” or STOP – and the “red flag” label, even though a spokesperson said at the time that Ducey’s proposal was “ more aggressive than what you’ve seen in other states.”

Another spokesperson said Wednesday that Ducey, while avoiding the “red flag” label, still supports the idea. “We thought it was good policy then and we still do,” spokesman CJ Karamargin said.

Either way, though, the fact that the guy who went out of his way for such a law was so wary of the ‘red flag’ label – with Trump and Abbott also distancing themselves from it. idea – shows how this can and will play with the broader GOP. And for that reason, while a red flag law might be the likeliest product of the debate to come, it is still highly unlikely to become a reality.


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