We’ve spilled a lot of digital ink over red flag laws in the last couple of years, and for good reason. They’re the kind of law that looks reasonable if you aren’t careful enough to recognize the problem. After all, few are comfortable with the idea of troubled people having guns.
In the aftermath of Parkland, a lot of people–myself included–asked how the shooter could buy a gun legally when there were so many red flags. In response, red flag laws were pushed by many as the answer.
Yet there are problems. Red flags take away due process for many Americans who end up stripped of their Second Amendment rights yet have done nothing wrong. Perhaps worse than that, though, is the fact that it’s not needed.
In a story intended to support red flag laws and perhaps expand them, their example illustrates one of the biggest issues I have with such laws.
Under oath in a sterile, wood-paneled courtroom, Babylon Schools Superintendent Linda Rozzi implored a judge to prevent every educator’s worst nightmare: Barring immediate action, she testified, one of her students could become the next school shooter.
The Black student, a rail-thin 17-year-old at Babylon Junior-Senior High School, watched silently. But to Rozzi, a message he posted on Snapchat in late November spoke volumes.
“When I kill everyone, know it’s my dad’s fault,” the teenager allegedly wrote on the social media website, accompanied by an irate selfie with a “crazy face,” in the words of the judge.
Rozzi’s journey to the Long Island courtroom began with a new law approved amid heightened anxiety over mass school shootings. New York’s controversial law, championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, went into effect last August and allows judges to confiscate — or restrict access to — guns from people they believe may harm themselves or others.
Except, I’d argue the law wasn’t necessary.
The student in question essentially issued a terroristic threat, a crime in and of itself but also probable cause to launch an investigation to determine if he had the means to carry out his threat.
All over the nation, we’ve seen numerous cases of mass shootings thwarted by authorities without a red flag law being needed. Arguably, there’s no evidence that a red flag law has ever stopped a mass shooting, but we do have evidence that mass shootings have been stopped without them.
It’s important to remember that planning a mass shooting is considered a criminal act. People can be arrested for just that. They have, as a matter of fact. That’s how those mass shootings were averted in the first place.
What red flag laws do, particularly when dealing with school-age kids, is potentially punish law-abiding citizens for the fears of another person. The student in question in the example above wasn’t old enough to own firearms on his own. How would a red flag law keep him disarmed when he couldn’t lawfully buy a gun in the first place?
Well, it wouldn’t. It would go after any firearms owned by his parents. It would disarm them for the actions of their son, someone who may well have just been talking smack on social media.
The truth of the matter is, though, that the red flag law wasn’t needed here either. There’s plenty of evidence for law enforcement to handle the threat without potentially punishing blameless parents.
Then again, such laws aren’t really about that kind of thing, now are they?