EDITORIAL: Time to green-light expanding the use of red-flag laws

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Members of the FBI’s Evidence Response Team Unit investigate in downtown Highland Park, Ill., the day after a deadly mass shooting on Tuesday, July 5, 2022. Police say the gunman who attacked an Independence Day parade in suburban Chicago fired more than 70 rounds with an AR-15-style gun. (Ashlee Rezin /Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

Given the lamentable but successful grab for power in Congress and the Supreme Court made by far-right extremists, small but sure successes in gun control as a way to save lives warrant celebration.

Tragically, news that Congress approved the first reasonably meaningful measures of gun control in almost 30 years was overshadowed by continued gun massacres and seemingly endless shooting deaths over the past several days.

Among the small victories in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which could lead to larger gains, is an effort to encourage states to pass so-called red flag laws.

Colorado has a nearly three-year-old red flag law that, despite some political opposition in the beginning, has garnered popularity because it makes sense, and it works in saving lives. 

Colorado’s red-flag law — which allows police and family members to appeal to courts for law enforcement to remove guns from people deemed dangerous because of psychological problems — isn’t the only place where proponents tout saving lives.

The Associated Press last week wrote that LaGrange College political science professor John A. Tures researched three years of red flag laws and concluded they really work. 

“On average, states with red flag laws in 2019 and 2020 had significantly lower firearm death rates than states without them,” according to the AP story. “In 2018, the average death rates for both groups were closer, but states with red flag laws still had a meaningfully lower rate.

His work estimated the red-flag laws saved about 7,000 lives in 2020.

A Duke University study showed that for every 10 guns removed using a red-flag law, one life is saved. 

Even staunch critics of the Colorado law have been using it because it makes sense and saves lives.

Kaiser Health News in a story last week revealed that politically right-wing Colorado sheriffs who opposed the bill three years ago in the Colorado Legislature now use the measure in their home counties, often rural. 

Similar opposition was seen in Colorado, where Dolores County and at least 36 other counties declared themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries” after the red flag law was introduced.

In those counties, red-flag law petitions have been filed in more than half of the courts in those communities, “often by the very sheriffs who had previously denounced the law” according to the Kaiser Health News story. 

“These are sheriffs and law enforcement who were originally saying, ‘We want nothing to do with this law,’” said Lisa Geller, state affairs adviser for the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions. “But in practice, they are using it, and this is not something that’s unique to Colorado. Law enforcement ended up realizing, ‘Hey, this is the best tool we have to protect ourselves.’”

The laws are gaining popularity because they make sense, and they work. 

The problem is, not enough people know about them, and residents and even police aren’t being trained and educated properly in how to use them.

Currently, only police and some family members can make the actual appeal to courts to hold a hearing and remove weapons from someone. But anyone who is concerned about the safety of the public because of a gun owner can call police to report a potential problem.

Police should be required to act on credible reports, making such requests public and their follow-through accountable.

Likewise, the law limits which members of a family can directly ask for help in removing a gun from an owner exhibiting worrisome behavior.

Laws, such as the one in Colorado, suffer from so-called “boyfriend loopholes,” where unmarried spouses, often solid sources for red-flag referrals, are unable to directly appeal to courts for help.

Americans increasingly see the wisdom in these kinds of common-sense gun proposals, and increasingly, research shows that warnings about abuse of the laws are unfounded.

To make these laws more effective, states must push for more and thorough gun registration, licensing and accountability, ensuring people unfit can’t purchase weapons, even from private parties.  

The problem, as is the case in numerous issues before Congress and state legislatures, is that far-right extremists are working to squelch such successful measures either in legislative bodies or in the courts, bypassing democratic channels and abusing political minority rights.

After a holiday weekend marred by catastrophic mass shootings at Independence Day festivities, pressing for momentum on increasing the acceptance, use and expansion of red-flag laws has never been more critical or the need more obvious.

 

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Nilta
Nilta
1 month ago

You also have a problem in that most sheriffs (who are mostly republican) refuse to enforce these laws. How is there not consequences for law enforcement officers who choose which laws they will and won’t enforce?

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago
Reply to  Nilta

Well, because you know–they are republicans, who are not subject to the laws in the way the rest of us are. In these cases, the Governor should have been more forceful and said that any peace officer who says he will not enforce a duly-enacted law would be terminated. When people see officials doing these sorts of things, the people get the idea they can act in similar fashion. Picking and choosing which laws one will follow or enforce leads to anarchy, a goal of both the far right and the far left.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago

It’s only common sense, and the knee-jerk reaction from some sheriffs was not warranted.

We, the people, celebrate any victory, no matter how small, in the push-back against the far-right agenda.

DENNIS DUFFY
DENNIS DUFFY
1 month ago

How tedious morons can be! You flip out over some dimwit killing people with a legal gun but ignore those killing with Illegal guns, I mean , don’t you fear mongering fools ever look at the statistics of shootings in such places as Chicago? Do you think those gangbangers give a sh#t about some law restricting gun ownership. Could it be that since it’s black on black crime killings you secretly applaud the murders????? but when a white person gets killed it’s a 72 hours news trajedy. I guarantee the families of those being slaughtered by gang violence loved their children and family the same . Passing laws that do nothing is like passing gas. It stinks.

Jeff Ryan
Jeff Ryan
1 month ago
Reply to  DENNIS DUFFY

Having lived in Chicago, and having worked in law enforcement there, I can tell you that gang murders, which happen everywhere, are mainly committed with the flood of guns from Indiana, where gun laws are considerably laxer.

And you know what? Even with a more rural, whiter, population, Indiana has a higher firearm mortality rate than Illinois! Huh. So does Kansas, not a state one thinks of when one thinks of states overrun by “black gangs”, as people like you tend to do. Mississippi, Missouri and Montana are higher as well. Tennessee and Wyoming, well-known for its black gangs, have higher rates. Oh, and so do Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia. Looks like those wild black gangbangers have a lot of catching up to do with their cracker brothers!

Wanna know who has really low firearm mortality rates? California. New York. Massachusetts. You know, those sissy liberal states with their gun laws and regulations.

Look out! There’s a black man over there! He might just shoot you! Better get your gun!