Use Of Red Flag Laws Isn't Evidence Of Their Effectiveness

I don’t like red flag laws.

While I can understand the thinking that goes into them, the truth of the matter is that red flag laws are unnecessary. We have the structure in place in pretty much every state to deal with dangerous people in a way that isn’t as open to abuse as red flag laws typically are. They can still be abused, but due process tends to be more respected.

What really annoys me, though, is how the mere use of such measures tends to be presented as the only evidence you should need for how effective those measures actually are.

Like this bit.

At least eight Prince William County residents and one Manassas City resident have had their firearms confiscated by local police since Virginia’s “red flag” law took effect last July. In every instance, the law was used to remove firearms from people who were either involved in violent domestic disputes or were experiencing a severe mental health crisis.

The new law allows a commonwealth’s attorney, law-enforcement officer or judge to petition to have a person’s firearms removed using an emergency substantial risk order, or ESRO, if they believe the person poses a threat to themselves or others. It also bars the person from purchasing any new guns until the order is removed.

Court records show that local police officers petitioned the court to confiscate residents’ firearms in all nine instances. Four followed domestic disputes and five were in response to people experiencing a severe mental health crisis, including people threatening to take their own lives or to commit “suicide by cop,” according to court records.

Police have confiscated more than 23 guns in connection with the orders. Firearms include semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and pistols. Prince William County police officials say weapons have not been returned to their owners in at least four of the eight cases but declined request for comment about the remaining four cases.

Anytime police execute an ERSO, a court hearing must be held within 14 days to allow the gun owner the opportunity to ask a judge to remove the order. A judge then rules on whether to return the guns or to have them held for six more months. The order can be extended for additional six-month periods with no limits on extensions.

In a lot of ways, Virginia’s laws are better than most.

Yes, that’s just sad.

See, the problem is that neither the lawyers, police officers, nor judges are experts as to anyone’s mental state. They simply don’t have the expertise to determine whether someone is truly a threat or not, which means that we simply have no evidence that any of these people were actually dangerous or not or whether they were just spouting off at the mouth because they were upset.

“But there were some that were domestic disputes. Are you defending wife-beaters?”

No, I’m not, but do we actually know that’s what those “domestic disputes” really were? Or were they just really loud arguments where the police were called and they decided someone in the house represented a threat? After all, if there was any actual abuse, an arrest would have taken place and, following a trial, they likely would have become prohibited persons anyway, thus negating the need for a red flag law.

Again, these are not experts.

That won’t stop the media from citing all these cases as a way to make people feel like these laws are justified. They just never seem to get a counterpoint from the media.

Shocking.

Dec 04, 2021 11:30 AM ET