Democrats gearing up to beef up red flag laws

Democrats gearing up to beef up red flag laws
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

It’s too soon to know really how 2022 will go down in history, but a case can be made as it being the year of illustrating the failures of red flag laws. After all, we’ve seen several mass shootings in states that have such laws on the books, laws we were told were essential in preventing such shootings.

And they didn’t work.

The fact that they didn’t work isn’t really a matter of dispute. It’s obvious for anyone to see. The question then becomes about why they failed.

Regardless, it seems Democrats want to rejigger these laws without understanding what went wrong.

Motivated by tragedy and a frustration with Congress, Democratic lawmakers in states that have recently experienced highly publicized mass shootings like Illinois, Michigan and Colorado are preparing their own gun safety agendasfor the new year. At the top of the list: enacting or expanding “red flag” laws that allow courts to temporarily confiscate guns from someone deemed dangerous, and Illinois lawmakers may act as soon as next month.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already have red flag laws — many in the aftermath of the 2018 Parkland shooting in Florida, where 17 students died and another 17 were injured. But many states are running into problems using the laws to prevent gun violence, sparking a new national push to redesign and implement them.

“Passing laws is half the equation and implementing them is the other half,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for reducing gun violence. “What we’ve seen in too many instances like in Buffalo, N.Y., and Highland Park, Ill., there were clear signs that a red flag law could have been used and prevented tragedy. The costs are too high to not focus on implementation.”

There were clear signs of problems, but what Feinblatt and others aren’t figuring is the human problem.

You see, one issue with red flag laws is that the depend on people making a judgment about the potential of an individual to commit an act of violence, either against themselves or others. These are generally people who aren’t actually trained to identify the warning signs.

We see these signs after the fact and think, “It’s obvious he was going to hurt people, so why didn’t they do something?”

But it’s easy to think that what you’re seeing is just someone angry in the short term, or someone having a temporary crisis. It’s kind of hard to imagine anyone trying to shoot up a school or a grocery store or a nightclub. It’s so hard, in fact, that many people don’t see the need to take advantage of a red flag law.

And no amount of reworking the laws will change that.

“We can make police departments use them! That might have stopped what happened in Club Q in Colorado Springs!” some will argue, and yeah, that sure looked like a slam dunk case of a warning sign if I’ve ever seen one. I mean, the alleged killer even said he wanted to be the next mass shooter.

But even if that would have been a legitimate use of a red flag law, just for the sake of argument, then what about everyone else?

That guy was an exception, not the rule.

Further, let’s remember that when red flag laws were first being pushed, we were told they were only going to be used in rare instances. Now, people are pushing to use them a whole lot more, all because their system failed. They can’t acknowledge that it was a bad idea, they have to double down and ignore everything they said before about red flag laws.

Then there’s the fact that we don’t really have much evidence they accomplish much of anything. Most of the statistics we see supporting their existence is nothing more than how often they’ve been used. That’s unconvincing at best. After all, we don’t necessarily see a corresponding decrease in mass shootings or other violent crimes following the passage of such laws, so how do you know the people who are losing their guns are actually dangerous?

We don’t. We’re just supposed to trust them.

Meanwhile, we’re also supposed to trust them as they seek to push for new modifications to the failed law.

Sorry, hard pass.