Congress, which is generally incapable of accomplishing much of anything, is inching toward a consensus on at least one commonsense remedy for gun violence: state-based “red flag” laws.
Red flag statutes, also known as extreme risk protection orders, allow authorities to temporarily seize firearms from persons considered imminent threats, either to themselves or other people. A judge has to grant the order.
President Donald Trump likes the idea. “We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms,” he said Monday after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. “That is why I have called for red flag laws.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, endorsed the idea. “State red flag laws will provide the tools for law enforcement to do something about many of these situations before it’s too late,” he said.
Graham’s statement is an admission that Congress can’t pass a federal red flag law. Instead, Washington is thinking about giving grants to the states to pass their own statutes or withholding federal funds from states that don’t.
Today, 17 states have some version of a red flag law. Missouri and Kansas aren’t among them.
That must change next year, no matter what Congress does. Legislators in both states should pass laws enabling authorities to intervene when clear evidence suggests someone is about to engage in violent behavior.
Missouri state Sen. Jill Schupp, a St. Louis County Democrat, offered a red flag bill earlier this year. “We’re not trying to take people’s guns away from them for the long haul,” she said Wednesday. “We’re trying to keep them safe.”
She plans to offer a similar bill next year. Pro-gun activists won’t be happy.
“A ‘red flag gun seizure’ would allow virtually anyone who doesn’t like you to be able to make up a bogus complaint, allowing a liberal judge to order your firearms to be confiscated,” claimed Aaron Dorr of the Missouri Firearms Coalition.
Moriah Day of the Kansas State Rifle Association agrees. “The Second Amendment applies even when someone is going through a tough time, so suffering from depression alone should not disqualify someone from possessing a firearm,” he told The Star’s Editorial Board.
Some Kansas lawmakers are frustrated. “We have red flag ... legislation sitting in committee,” said Kansas state Sen. Dinah Sykes, a Democrat. “I am not optimistic that anything will pass.”
That would be a dangerous mistake. We’re confident that judges can fairly decide if guns should be seized in true crisis situations and that a realistic system of appeal can be established.
And what’s the alternative? If someone privately threatens to shoot up a school or a shopping mall — or murder a spouse, or children — must friends and family step aside and wait until he or she actually pulls the trigger? No.
Red flag laws won’t stop every shooting. Policymakers must pursue an all-of-the-above approach to reducing gun violence.
But the slaughters in Texas and Ohio are yet another reminder that there are too many weapons in the hands of killers. Red flag laws with bipartisan backing in Kansas and Missouri could help address that tragic reality and make our states safer.