Editorials

Would a red flag law have prevented mass shooting at KCK bar?

Neither of the suspects in this weekend’s mass shooting in a Kansas City, Kansas, bar should have had a gun at all.

Before four people were killed and five were injured at Tequila KC, both 23-year-old Javier Alatorre and 29-year-old Hugo Villanueva-Morales already had serious charges pending against them in Jackson County. Both were out on bail, and in theory barred from possessing any firearm as a condition of bond.

But red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders, do more than make it illegal for certain people to own a gun. They go further, and make it possible to get a judge’s order to temporarily take guns away from people who are considered an imminent threat. They can take firearms out of the hands of those with a history of domestic abuse that’s a common denominator for so many mass shooters. Alatorre has such a history.

If we could do that — and we can — why wouldn’t we? Would we really rather continue arguing about mental health funding that never seems to materialize versus other gun laws that don’t happen either? Apparently, yes.

The NRA and a number of Kansas Republicans don’t like red flag laws on a number of grounds — most of them summed up in a recent American Spectator piece headlined, “Red Flag Laws are Lethal Leftist Weapons.”

On Oct. 1, three dozen Republican lawmakers in Kansas sent President Donald Trump a letter begging him not to support red flag laws. He mentioned such legislation approvingly after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. “We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms,” the president said then. Who could argue?

You know the answer. Kansas Republicans said in their letter that such laws make us less safe, erode our rights and “could be abused and used to target competent, law abiding citizens.”

One of those who signed the letter, state Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, said this weekend’s shooting hadn’t changed anything for him because “Kansas already has a law that says it is illegal to own or possess a firearm if you have been convicted of domestic violence. There is nothing in that law that says that law enforcement can’t enforce it. The question should be: Why aren’t our current laws being enforced?”

No, the question should be why we still aren’t taking domestic violence seriously enough. And why won’t we take the action necessary against someone a judge finds to be an imminent risk to himself or others? Red-flag laws are especially effective in preventing suicide.

Villanueva-Morales had been charged with assaulting a law enforcement officer during a bar fight. Alatorre had at least two protective orders taken out against him in 2017 by a woman and their then-infant child. Jackson County prosecutors unsuccessfully petitioned just last month to have a higher bond set for Alatorre, who, though a proven flight risk, was nevertheless released on his own recognizance.

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