If You Claim Red Flag Laws Save Lives, You Better Back It Up

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Red flag laws are controversial, to say the least. They should be. After all, you shouldn’t just take away someone’s constitutional right without at least giving them due process. It’s one thing to decide someone is a danger, but such laws essentially put the person in a position of having to prove they’re not a threat.

That kind of thing should be controversial. Better yet, it shouldn’t even be suggested in the first place.

Unfortunately, it’s the law in many places and many people actually think it’s a good idea. They think it’s such a good idea, they don’t mind making claims they can’t back up to try and get other states to adopt it.

Take this story focused on Ohio titled, “Red flag laws in U.S. saving lives, but underutilized. Ohio proposal stalled” as an example.

Alyssa Shaw’s job is to guide Seattle-area residents through what can be one of the most wrenching and complicated experiences of their lives: petitioning civil courts to temporarily take away the firearms of a loved one in a mental health crisis who may harm themselves or others.

Washington state’s extreme risk protection order law — often called a red flag law — has been on the books for five years, but most Washingtonians don’t know the law exists, let alone the details of the petitioning process, said Shaw, the state’s first red flag law advocate. Often, people find out about the law only after they call the police to report that a family or household member is making threats or is experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Shaw thinks of herself as a translator of the legal system. She walks family or household members through the petition process, often gathering background information about the person who might be a threat, asking whether the petitioner feels safe and connecting them with community resources.

“The law is not complicated, but it is important to get the word out to the public about a law they can actually use to save lives,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, a Democrat, told Stateline.

In its first year, Colorado’s red flag law produced fewer than 125 extreme risk protection orders. Courts denied 46 petitions to seize firearms.

“What the public needs to know is we need your engagement and your awareness,” Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser said. “If individuals know about a risk, but they don’t know that there’s this tool to save this person’s life by removing their firearm, it may never be used appropriately.”

In Douglas County, just south of the Denver area, Sheriff Tony Spurlock is a leading advocate for the state’s law, at times taking political heat from gun rights advocates who question the law’s due process protections. But Spurlock, an avid Second Amendment supporter, insists the law is saving lives. All four people who were subjects of petitions in his community are still alive today, he noted.

Do you know what’s missing from this opinion piece?

Not a shred of actual evidence that’s not anecdotal.

Four people who had their guns taken from them are still alive today? That’s great. Where’s the evidence they wouldn’t have been otherwise? That’s right, there isn’t any.

See, people who are depressed and even suicidal don’t necessarily follow through. Many recognize the problem before it gets that bad and seek help. Others have loved ones step up and talk to them and convince them to get help. Just because someone seems like a risk to themselves, it doesn’t mean they actually are.

If red flag laws are actually making a difference, then where are the statistics backing this claim up? Where’s the dip in gun fatalities that have to be the result of such a law passing?

There aren’t any such statistics. We know because if there were, this story would have been littered with the studies showing us just how great these laws actually are. Since there aren’t any, it’s safe to say that they don’t exist.

And what about alternative methods of suicide? While guns are the surest way there is, there are others that are almost as guaranteed. No, I’m not going to spell them out for what I hope are obvious reasons, but they exist. Do red flag laws stop those?

It’s another reason why I’m skeptical of anecdotal claims that the laws saved lives because those they were used on are simply not dead. Sure, some might be at a loss after their guns are taken, but if they were that suicidal, I’d imagine they’d at least look for alternative methods.

If they didn’t, then maybe that should tell you something.

 

Nov 26, 2021 10:30 AM ET