Trump Calls For 'Red Flag' Laws, Backs Off 'Universal Background Checks'

In his address to the American people today, President Donald Trump expressed his sorry for the victims of this weekend’s attacks in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. Trump also laid out several steps his administration plans to take to combat and prevent similar attacks in the future, including identifying threats and dangerous individuals before they’re able to carry out their plans, stronger mental health laws including involuntary committing those dangerous individuals, changing the culture to one that is less soaked in violent video games and imagery, and working with Congress to put “red flag” firearms laws on the books across the country.

In an earlier tweet before addressing the nation, the president made reference to “strong background checks,” but there was no reference to “universal background checks” legislation in Trump’s televised address.

According to Steven Portnoy with CBS News, the White House hasn’t changed its position on HR8, the “universal background check bill” passed by the House earlier this year, which is good news.

We’ve laid out the problems with the House bill and other state-level UCB laws that have been passed recently, and the president said in his remarks today that he’s interested in taking a look at any proposal that “would actually work.”  Which brings us to the “red flag” law that the President mentioned in his address.

As we’ve reported, other Republicans like Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw have also offered at least some support for “red flag” legislation. On the surface, the law is appealing. It’s targeted not at every gun owner, but only those deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. Any legally-owned firearms are seized from the individual, but they can get their firearms back after a certain amount of time has passed (though it may be several years).

The problems with the legislation don’t really appear until you actually begin to investigate the details. Who is allowed to petition the court for an “extreme risk protection order?” In some states, it may be family members. In other states, like California, there are proposals that would allow for co-workers, teachers, and others to petition the court. Once the petition has been granted, a hearing is held, and most of the time the subject of that proposed restraining order is not a part of the hearing. Only later, after a protection order has been granted and firearms removed is the individual allowed their own day in court.

The “red flag” laws also address any legal guns owned by the subject, but nothing more. Someone could be deemed to be a danger to themselves or others, but their ability to possess gasoline, matches, sharp knives, pills and virtually every other inanimate object you can imagine remain unchecked. And in most cases, there’s no requirement or help for mental health services offered to the individual in question. That’s why I’ve called “red flag” laws a gun control solution to a mental health problem.

One notable exception is the “red flag” law that was recently passed in Maine. There, a medical professional, not a judge, is the one to decide whether or not an individual is a threat. That determination allows for police to take the individual into protective custody to get them help, while also allowing the person to surrender their firearms. Two weeks later, a judge decides whether or not the person can get their guns back, or if they can be disarmed by law for up to a year.

In my view, there are still some due process concerns with the law in Maine, and outside of the initial consultation with mental health professionals there may not be much help offered a troubled individual, but there’s at least some consideration given to the fact that we’re dealing with a mental health issue, not a gun issue. In the coming days, I’m hoping to talk with gun owners in Maine about the law on their books, and whether or not they view it as helpful or harmful to the rights, safety, and security of residents.