Michigan mom's arrest shows why red flag laws won't work

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

As Tennessee is set to convene a special legislative session intended to pass Gov. Bill Lee’s red flag law, there is going to be a great deal of debate about the efficacy of such laws.


There are problems with most incarnations of such laws.

Most throw due process out the window, for one thing, stripping a person of their right to keep and bear arms before the judge has even laid eyes on the poor soul. Lee’s proposal skips this step, at least, but that brings us to a second problem.

You see, red flag laws leave potentially dangerous people walking around, free as a bird, free to commit all manner of atrocity, even if their guns were taken.

Those are just two big ones that spin up during debate, but there’s a third: Family dynamics can be complicated and some people just want to see the best in their loved ones.

As a result, they either don’t report troubling behavior or they simply think the trouble has passed.

Don’t think that happens? Think again.

The charges unsealed Tuesday against Michelle Berka, 56, come after her son Randall Berka II was arrested in March and charged with illegally possessing guns. Federal prosecutors say he made death threats on social media against the president and governor, as well as people in the LGBTQ community.

Authorities say Michelle Berka knowingly lied when she bought five guns that were eventually given to another person, according to an indictment unsealed in federal court Tuesday and first reported by The Detroit News. While the indictment dated Aug. 2 does not name who Berka gave the firearms to, her son was arrested with four of the same firearms in March.


Oh, but maybe she was unaware of what happened.

Except, she did.

Randall Berka II was involuntarily committed for mental health care in 2012 and declared incapacitated, which bars him from possessing guns or ammunition, the FBI said.

In March, Michelle Berka told the FBI that her son “scared” her and that he should be arrested and put in prison because she “does not think the mental health treatment is working,” according to a complaint. At the time, the FBI said Michelle Berka had purchased three long guns and one handgun for her son.

“But she reported him to the FBI,” some will undoubtedly argue, and not without cause.

Yet she’d already bought him four firearms despite him being prohibited from owning them and she had every indication of knowing he was prohibited.

It wasn’t until his behavior hit a more troubling point that she notified authorities and thought he should be imprisoned.

That suggests she saw nothing wrong with his behavior until then.

And this isn’t the only example we can cite. The Club Q shooter in Colorado Springs had all kinds of threatening behavior prior to his attack, yet no one used the red flag law for him. Not the police, not his family, no one.


Red flag laws require everyone to read the situation correctly, which isn’t likely to happen.

Couple that with the fact that some will use red flag laws to settle scores, which we’ve already seen at least once, and the fact that many people who get hit with these orders aren’t really a threat to anyone and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Especially since there’s no reason to think this woman and people like her won’t still buy guns for people under such orders in the first place.

There are better ways to address alarming behavior. We’d do far better to take those steps and quit pretending that red flag laws are the answer.

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