One of the worst components of the model “red flag” legislation introduced by Joe Biden’s Justice Department is how easy it would be for nearly anyone to petition the government and have someone’s firearms seized. Under the proposed legislation from the Biden administration, not only would law enforcement be able to initiate an Extreme Risk Protection Order; family, household members, “intimate partners,” and even school officials could file red flag petitions. Teachers’ unions have already embraced the idea in several states where red flag laws are in place.
New York was the first to include school principals in its red flag law, winning support from teachers’ union representatives like American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who appeared alongside Gov. Andrew Cuomo in support of the legislation.
Hawaii soon followed New York, adding “educators” as those who may file a report. California expanded its law to include teachers as reporters in 2020.
Citing those states, the Justice Department model legislation lists school officials as potential petitioners, alongside people like law enforcement officials, family members, other household members, intimate partners, and health-care providers.
The state laws allow petitioners to cite varying forms of evidence that people may present a threat to themselves or others. The court may then restrict their ability to purchase and possess guns, sometimes taking immediate preliminary action before they consider a longer-term, more permanent petition.
Gun violence groups say that authority can not only aid in the prevention of mass shootings in places like schools; they also credit the legislation with helping to prevent suicides, a growing concern for educators.
The best evidence that gun control groups can cite in terms of red flag laws reducing suicides is a study that found that for every 19 or 20 red flag gun seizures, one suicide was prevented. Of course that means that 18 to 19 people either had their firearms taken from them for no reason or took their own life after their guns were seized, which doesn’t sound all that effective to me.
Besides, we’ve also seen a number of school districts behave completely irrationally when it comes to students and firearms. Even toy guns accidentally displayed during online classes have led to kids being suspended from school and police visiting homes. I have a hard time believing that educators wouldn’t abuse red flag laws, even if their intent wasn’t malicious.
Supporters of the idea claim that empowering teachers and principals to file red flag petitions could help prevent school shootings by giving them another tool to use when assessing threats posed by troubled students.
Those threat assessment teams typically don’t have authority to suspend a student’s access to guns, but they may make special school behavioral plans or, in some states, petition to have a student undergo a formal psychological evaluation. In Parkland, for example, a threat assessment team had previously referred the confessed gunman to an outside mental health agency, according to a consultant’s report commissioned by the school district. That agency determined it was not necessary to pursue a court-ordered psychiatric commitment.
And there’s the real problem, not only with allowing educators to initiate red flag petitions but with red flag laws in general; they substitute gun confiscation in place of actual mental health treatment. A “successful” red flag order takes the guns but leaves the supposedly dangerous person with their knives, pills, gasoline, matches, and anything else they might use to hurt themselves or others.
Giving educators the authority to file red flag petitions won’t make students any safer, and is likely to result in civil rights violations on the part of school systems and judges who adopt a “better safe than sorry” approach to approving Extreme Risk Protection Orders. Biden’s model red flag legislation deserves a failing grade for many reasons, including adding school officials to the list of those empowered to pursue gun confiscations from students and their families.