Gun control advocates would have us believe that confiscating people’s guns is the solution to all problems. Without so much as a hearing, red-flag laws allow judges in many states to confiscate people’s guns due to mere suspicion of mental health distress.
A third party need only complain that a gun owner is a danger to himself or others. After reviewing a single written complaint, all a judge needs is “reasonable suspicion.” No mental health experts are involved in the evaluation or in treating the person.
These laws were supposed to stop the recent mass murders in Colorado Springs and Chesapeake, Virginia, respectively, on Nov. 19 and 23. But why design a law that only takes away a person’s guns when there are so many other ways for people to harm themselves or others?
If a person is really a danger to themselves or others, confiscating guns Isn’t much of a solution anyway. There are so many other ways for disturbed people to harm themselves or others.
It’s easy enough for people to do something crazy with a motor vehicle. Florida police narrowly averted a “mass casualty” event at a 5K Thanksgiving Day run by stopping a woman before she could drive her Range Rover Velar through the crowd at 60 mph. Once caught, the disturbed woman “repeatedly banged her head” against the window of a police car.
On Saturday, a car was driven into a crowd of 800 people at a Christmas market in Congleton, England. A year ago, a man killed six people and injured 61 by driving into a Christmas parade in Wisconsin.
The Washington Post notes that between May and June 2020, there were at least 18 deliberate vehicle attacks on people. The worst recent vehicle attack occurred in France on July 14, 2016, in which 86 were killed and 430 wounded. That attack was much more deadly than any U.S. mass shooting.
The recent Colorado Springs mass murderer had just last year engaged in making bomb threats. The Boston Marathon bombers even used pressure cookers to make a bomb. And if guns suddenly vanished, there would likely be more of those types of attacks.
Red-flag laws are used almost exclusively to prevent suicide. But there are many ways to take one’s own life without a gun. We should prioritize mental health treatment, not weapon confiscation.
It has always been possible to take a dangerous person’s guns away. All 50 states and the federal government have involuntary commitment laws that go by various names: the Baker Act in Florida, for example, or the 5150 code in California. All these laws require an evaluation by a mental health expert, and then testimony before a judge. If the defendant can’t afford a lawyer, one is provided. Hearings can occur quickly in urgent cases, but a person’s right to due process is respected.
Judges have a much broader array of options than just taking away a person’s guns. A person may agree to voluntary psychiatric treatment, with a follow-up court hearing to evaluate progress. The person may also be given home detention or involuntarily committed to a mental health treatment center.
Democrats and gun control activists point out that red-flag laws enjoy at least 2-to-1 support in surveys. But the polling doesn’t really gauge Americans’ views accurately because the surveys don’t describe the laws accurately. They may, for instance, ask people if they support laws that “allow guns to be temporarily confiscated by a judge from people considered by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others.”
The Crime Prevention Research Center, which I head, hired McLaughlin & Associates to conduct a survey in July of 1,000 general election voters. The survey began by asking people whether they supported red-flag laws. It then informed respondents that there are no hearings before a person’s guns are taken away and no mental health experts involved in the process. After being told these two facts, what had been 2-to-1 support for red-flag laws turned to opposition by a margin of 47% to 29%.
Worse, there is evidence that red-flag laws increase suicides because depressed people may not talk to others about their depression for fear that even a well-meaning person might file a complaint, and they won’t have a chance to explain their circumstances to a judge.
Gun control advocates have done a disservice to people undergoing mental health crises. By making everything about guns, they have taken the focus off treatment. People in distress don’t deserve to be treated like potential mass shooters.
• Lott is president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, and the author most recently of “Gun Control Myths.”