Red flag laws are supposedly supported by the majority of people, yet they remain incredibly controversial. After all, you’re talking about taking people’s guns without due process. That’s simply not supposed to happen.
Yet many states have passed them. One of those states is New York, where such a law did nothing to prevent Buffalo.
One night this past May, a father and son sat inside a Midtown Manhattan German beer hall chatting when the son began to grow furious for no apparent reason. Suddenly he exploded: “I will kill you with this beer glass. I will smash your head and face,” he yelled at his father.
As the father pulled out his cell phone to record the exchange, the son snatched it away and fled.
When the father filed a complaint with the police, he made it clear that his son was unstable, had threatened to kill him and others and had been actively trying to obtain a gun. His son was arrested not long after, on a domestic violence petit larceny charge on June 2.
At the time, law enforcement could have deemed the son a risk to himself and others and applied for an Emergency Risk Protection Order, commonly known as a “red flag” order. If approved by a judge, the ERPO would have allowed law enforcement to seize any firearms in the son’s possession and bar him from obtaining new ones for a year.
Despite the fact that such orders have been on the books in New York since 2019, they were rarely used by police or district attorneys in New York City. Former Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, who was in office through 2021, never applied for one.
His successor, Alvin Bragg, followed suit. That didn’t change with the arrest of the son who threatened to kill his father, despite the father’s insistence that his son was a threat and was trying to obtain firearms.
“I was like, ‘What does it take? This guy has been in and out of mental hospitals for years,’” said the father, who spoke to THE CITY on the condition of anonymity to protect his son. “I said, ‘You want a perfect textbook case of the next killer?’”
Four days after the son’s arrest, the dynamic shifted.
In the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting in Buffalo, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced her support for a package of gun reform laws that, for the first time, required prosecutors and police to request a red-flag order for anyone who they determine is likely to seriously harm themselves or others.
A few months later in October, Bragg went back to court and got such an order against the son.
Before the new law went into effect, a total of six red flag orders had been issued. Now, the total is 53.
This is touted as a good thing. It’s celebrated, and Bragg’s experience is held up as a prime example. After all, it sure looks like his son was deeply disturbed.
What I can’t help but notice is that despite him apparently being so deeply disturbed, he doesn’t appear to have hurt anyone. We’ve got an anecdote from one person, little to no corroborating evidence, and no suggestion anyone actually got harmed.
But it sure sounds scary, doesn’t it?
And now we’re told that since the law changed in August of last year, suddenly officials have used the law 53 times. Once again, the use of the law is taken as evidence the law is doing good things.
Except, it’s really not.
Especially since Bragg’s experience suggests that the issue should have resulted in a 72-hour mental health hold so the son could be evaluated for prolonged treatment. That would have not just made people safer but also helped the son get better.
Red flag laws don’t do any of that.
Look, I get the thinking behind red flag laws. I understand why some people absolutely think they’re great, but it really sounds like what we need is a better mental health system and a willingness to use that instead of treating the gun like the problem, not the mental health issues that people like Bragg’s son are dealing with.