AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Over the weekend, Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas took to social media to elaborate on his earlier statement that a federal bill dealing with “red flag” laws might be something worth considering. Hoping to spark a conversation, Crenshaw instead saw a backlash to his comments, and the congressman pushed back against some of the criticism.
It’s clear that there has been some confusion about what conservatives would support when it comes to laws that try to better protect our communities. Let’s address this directly. Watch. pic.twitter.com/TRYjPIclEm
— Rep. Dan Crenshaw (@RepDanCrenshaw) August 10, 2019
Crenshaw correctly notes that the phrase “red flag law” sends up red flags among a lot of gun owners, and for good reason.
“Clearly when we say ‘red flag laws,’ you guys stop listening. You can’t hear what we’re suggesting because understandably you automatically assume that we are just agreeing with the Left’s version of that law and we all know that the Left’s version would not be good, it would not protect due process. As it turns out that isn’t what we’re talking about at all.”
With all due respect to Rep. Crenshaw, the “Left’s version of this law” isn’t something that “would not be good.” These laws, in various forms, are already on the books in 17 states. Are those existing laws “not good,” in the congressman’s opinion? This is the first criticism of any ed flag law that I’ve seen from any Republican who’s come out in support of the idea of the legislation. Instead, we’ve heard a lot of talk about empowering states to enact laws of their own, without any mention of problems with the red flag laws already on the books.
One big reason why so many 2nd Amendment supporters have reacted the way they have is simple: these red flag laws were dreamt up by gun control groups, and they’ve been the primary drivers of legislation in the states. President Trump, Rep. Crenshaw, Sen. Rubio and others who’ve expressed support for “red flag” legislation have all spoken about strong due process protections, but they haven’t really talked specifically about what that means. Crenshaw changed that in his video, noting several specific areas that he says would be addressed in any federal legislation.
“At its heart what we’re talking about is the ability to confiscate weapons when there is clear evidence that violence is about to be committed. It’s that simple, and this isn’t that controversial. What is controversial is how that due process is protected, and I think that’s where a lot of these concerns are. Making sure that due process could not be abused is at the heart of any conservative solution to the supposed red flag laws in our version of what those would look like.
I have laid out specific safeguards that would have to be in place for us to support any type of red flag law. Among them would be clear and convincing evidence, punishment for false accusations, right to attorney and cross examination and limited standing so that not just anybody can accuse you. For instance, not just a neighbor, not just an ex; it has to be somebody with standing, maybe a family member or maybe only police officers.”
The vast majority of the 17 states that have set up red flag laws don’t have these due process protections in place, so what Rep. Crenshaw is talking about would be a big improvement. Still, don’t be surprised if the due process protections that Crenshaw proposes don’t satisfy all of the concerns of gun owners and civil libertarians. But Crenshaw said it’s important to be a part of this conversation, or else conservatives risk ending up with something far worse.
“Here’s the thing: I understand your fears about bad red flag laws. Red flag law is a general concept. There can be good ones and there can be bad ones. You should be against the bad ones as I am. The whole purpose of what the president did and what I am doing in trying to start a conversation about this is so that we take control of the narrative and propose solutions that actually do protect due process rights, ensure that we aren’t on the sidelines when Democrats are proposing blatantly unconstitutional laws that would not protect due process.”
“Nobody is saying this is definitely the solution. It’s a conversation. I haven’t come out in support of any particular bill or state law. It’s a conversation and conservatives have actually been having it for a very long time. It’s not new at all and it definitely does not deserve the emotional reaction it has gotten. We are better than that. Let’s be better than that.”
I don’t believe that President Trump or Rep. Crenshaw want a law that would lead to everyone’s guns being taken away, or a law that would be easily abused. But we do need to continue this conversation, because due process concerns are only one criticism leveled against these red flag laws. The congressman says, for instance, that these laws are about “confiscating weapons when there is clear evidence that violence is about to be committed.” I think one big problem that a lot of gun owners have with the idea of red flag laws is that if there’s clear evidence that violence is about to be committed, shouldn’t that evidence be used to arrest an individual, charge them in a court of law, and proceed from there? Or, if the evidence points to an act of violence like suicide, shouldn’t that evidence be used in conjunction with existing civil commitment laws to place that individual under a 72-hour hold for a full mental evaluation?
I think it would be helpful for conservative supporters of a red flag law with strong due process protections to lay out specific scenarios where they believe one of these laws would be the proper remedy, instead of bringing criminal charges or placing the individual in custody for a mental health evaluation.
I also think the conversation needs to address the fact that these red flag laws only deal with any firearms a person might own. As Rep. Crenshaw explains it, there can be clear and convincing evidence that an act of violence is imminent, but virtually every red flag law deals with legal gun ownership only. The person who’s planning a violent act may have their firearms seized, but their car keys, matches, gasoline, sharp knives, and other tools that could be used to harm others are left behind with them. That’s a problem, and the solitary focus on firearms understandably leads gun owners and 2nd Amendment supporters to see these laws as a gun control solution to a mental health or criminal justice problem.
I’m all for a constructive conversation about these issues, and that’s why I’ll be reaching out to Rep. Crenshaw’s office to see if he’ll join me on Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co.this week to discuss them further, because I know I and many others still have some serious issues with what we’ve heard so far.