WaPo: Why won't these red states adopt "red flag" laws?

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The gun control bill signed into law by Joe Biden a few weeks ago doesn’t compel states to impose Extreme Risk Protection Orders or other variants on “red flag” laws that allow for guns to be seized from someone deemed by a judge to be a threat to themselves or others, but that’s not stopping the Washington Post from trying to nudge Republican-led states into doing so.

The Post’s Kimberly Kindy says that “red flag” laws have become a focal point of debate and discussion over the past few weeks, but frets that most states controlled by the GOP don’t have these laws on the books and appear largely uninterested in passing them, even with the promise of federal grant money to implement them.

A Washington Post review of legislative battles in those states suggests that the bills were defeated through campaigns organized by local and national gun rights groups, including the NRA. Faced with heavy lobbying, Republican lawmakers have echoed the groups’ concerns in hearings and public venues.

States that have enacted the laws have also faced significant challenges in applying them.More than 1,000 cities and counties in red-flag states have declared themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries,” where local police have vowed to not use the laws. At the same time, GOP leaders in five states have recently proposed “anti-red-flag laws” to preemptively ban or repeal the measures.

Kindy at least points out that even in states that have had “red flag” laws on the books for years, the track record for the laws is mixed at best. But she mostly dismisses those concerns and instead focuses her attention on the lack of “red flag” laws in red states; something she seems to find inexplicable given the public support for the measures found in many surveys.

But that shift has not included a change in stance from the National Rifle Association or other gun groups. And given the groups’ long-running success of opposing such measures, some experts doubt the new federal law can budge reluctant state legislatures.

“In the places where red-flag laws haven’t passed, the reason was not tightfisted fiscal restraint on the part of the legislature,” said David Kopel, an attorney and gun rights advocate who has testified before Congress against red-flag laws. “It was pro-gun groups and the sheriffs in some cases saying, ‘No, we think this is terrible and violates due process.’ ”

The efficacy of the new federal law isn’t likely to be clear for months, as this year’s sessionsfor most state legislatures have already come to a close. Some advocates are eager to start fighting for a new round of bills, while others are prepared to renew efforts if their proposals falter in the waning days or months of the legislative sessions.

Kindy does her best to promote “red flag” laws, noting that two separate studies from Duke University found reductions in homicides in Connecticut and Indiana after the laws took effect. That doesn’t jibe with what the state of Indiana itself has reported, however.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death in Indiana and second leading cause of death for Hoosiers between the ages of 10 and 34 years.

In 2020, the Indiana Youth Institute reported that the percentage of Hoosier middle and high school students who considered attempting suicide ranged from a low of 11.8% (or 1 in 9 sixth grade students) to a high of 19.3% (or 1 in 5 tenth grade students). In addition, results from SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that 262,000 Hoosiers ages 18 years and older had serious thoughts of suicide during 2017-2018.

Indiana’s suicide rate has been higher than the national suicide rate since 2000 (source) and its rate in 2017 was the highest suicide rate observed in Indiana in over five decades (source). More than 1,000 Hoosiers have been lost to suicide every year since 2016 (source) and Indiana is in the top ten of U.S. states showing the largest percentage increase in deaths by suicide among 10-24 year-olds between 2007 and 2018.

Connecticut’s statistics also don’t reflect a decline in homicides since the state’s “red flag” law took effect in 1999. That year, Connecticut had 290 suicides, and while there’ve been a few years since with lower totals, since 2008 the state has had at least 300 suicides per year, with over 400 reported in 2017, 2018, and 2019 before dropping to 359 in 2020. It may be that firearm-related suicides have decreased since the implementation of “red flag” laws, but I thought the goal is to prevent suicide, not merely change the means by which individuals are taking their own lives.

And this, fundamentally, is my biggest problem with “red flag” laws. Even if all of the due process concerns are addressed, Extreme Risk Protection Orders and the like are ultimately gun control measures that have little to do with actually addressing the dangerousness of the subject of the petition. By focusing on “red flag” laws politicians are able to avoid the even more complicated issues of fixing broken mental health systems, which is where the focus really needs to be. Passing a “red flag” law may be doing something, but it’s not doing the right thing… at least if the goal is to identify, treat, or incarcerate dangerous individuals instead of just going after their guns and leaving the individuals to their own devices.