Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety is out with a new report urging the use of “red flag” laws to deprive veterans of their guns in hopes of reducing suicide, but their gun control solution to a mental health problem is getting pushback from many in the military.
We’ve talked extensively about the problems with flag laws here at Bearing Arms, but forget the due process concerns for a moment. Who really believes that the best way to help a suicidal veteran is to take their guns away and then leave them alone? “Red flag” laws are a gun control measure masquerading as a mental health proposal, which is why Everytown is pushing it so hard.
The problem of veteran suicides by firearm drew Everytown’s attention because of the statistics; the Department of Veterans Affairs reported last month that firearms were used in 69% of all veteran suicides in 2017, the latest year data is available. That’s a nearly 33% increase from 2005.
Everytown’s first recommendation is for more states to enact extreme risk protection orders, also known as “red-flag” laws, which allow police or family members to temporarily remove someone’s firearms if a state court agrees the person presents a danger to themselves or others. The idea is to place barriers between veterans in crisis and their firearms.
Suicides are a huge problem in the veteran community, but red flag laws aren’t the answer. Everytown for Gun Safety, for instance, says that since Connecticut instituted its red flag law in 1999, firearm-related suicides have declined by almost 14%. That sounds great until you realize that the state’s overall suicide rate has increased by nearly 20% during the same time period, a fact that Everytown didn’t bother to include in their report for some reason. They may be interested in reducing suicide by firearm, but most everyone else is interested in reducing suicide, no matter the means.
As it turns out, there are lots of folks in the military who aren’t on board with the idea of using red flag laws to disarm veterans. Even Mike Washington, a veteran and member of Everytown for Gun Safety’s veterans advisory council acknowledges that there’s a huge amount of resistance among military members.
Washington, who said he was “very fortunate” to not have a gun in his house when he was suicidal, ran the suggestion for red flag laws past a group of Marine Corps veterans. They immediately bristled.
“There’s a lot of pushback,” Washington said. “There’s this fear that the cops are going to be the ones to do this. That fear of infringement on the Second Amendment, it’s a big fear. That’s huge.”
They’re right to be concerned, and they should be pushing back. As it is, there are many veterans who worry that a diagnosis of PTSD or depression will lead to the loss of their Second Amendment rights, and targeting veterans with red flag firearm laws will only make veterans even less likely to reach out and talk to others if they’re struggling. It will stigmatize these veterans, without actually getting them the help that they need, especially if Michael Bloomberg’s gun control group gets its way and enlists the VA to help flag veterans.
Everytown wants the VA to take a more active role. Without interfering with patient confidentiality, the group wants the VA to work with law enforcement and veterans’ families to petition the court for extreme risk protection orders.
“Taking action is part of their mandate,” Burd-Sharp said.
However, there’s been pushback about the VA’s involvement with law enforcement on the issue. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., introduced a bill this summer that would stop the VA from reporting veterans to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System – the national database that gun merchants are required to check before selling a firearm.
The VA considers veterans who cannot manage their VA benefits and need another person to help with their finances as “mentally incompetent.” The agency reports the names of those veterans to the FBI.
The Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act would force the VA to cease that practice.
“This bill would ensure that the veterans who fought for our rights are guaranteed their own,” Roe said in a statement.
Roe’s bill is a good start, but it’s going to have an uphill fight in the Democrat-controlled House. In the meantime, Congress has stalled on any gun measures while impeachment takes center stage, but expect a push for “red flag” laws in state legislatures across the country when the 2020 sessions start to kick off in early January.