‘Red flag laws’ violate more than just gun rights
In the wake of two recent tragedies, an alarming number of elected officials from both major political parties have embraced the idea of so-called “red flag laws.” Also referred to as “Extreme Risk Protection Orders” (ERPO), these laws claim to make society safer by providing an expedited and streamlined process to keep firearms out of the hands of unstable or potentially violent individuals.
Sounds good on paper, right?
Actually, no. It sounds terrible (even on paper). Any time a proposal aims to “keep guns out of the hands of X”, there’s a 99.995 percent chance that “X” will be terribly defined, subjectively determined, and ultimately purely arbitrary in nature. Proponents of gun control (and make no mistake, red flag laws are gun control) want you to think, “I’m not like them. This isn’t about me.”
But you are like them, and it is about you. It’s about everyone.
Hopefully you’ll never commit a mass shooting, murder, or violent assault. But while you might not have a criminal connection to such individuals, you do share at least one thing in common: you both have unalienable rights. The right to face your accuser. The right to due process. The right to protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Every one of these rights are explicitly violated under red flag laws.
Such laws often allow a judge to issue an order of confiscation “ex parte”, meaning without you present. Because it’s a civil process, you aren’t entitled to a public defender, or even afforded the opportunity to defend yourself. Once a protective order is issued, law enforcement are dispatched to search your property and seize your weapons – without criminal charges ever being filed, or even probable cause that an actual crime has been committed.
To make matters worse, Red Flag hearings can be adjudicated based on uncorroborated claims made by a single individual. Perhaps it’s an angry spouse, jealous co-worker, or disgruntled neighbor. All it takes is for someone to make a convincing argument that you are a danger to yourself or others, and your property is taken from you and you lose your right to defend yourself.
You may be thinking that surely the burden of proof to do such a thing must be extremely high. Certainly someone must be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you’re a danger.
Nope. All that’s required is that “the preponderance of the evidence” suggest you are dangerous. That’s legalese for “more likely than not.” That’s an incredibly low bar to justify any punitive action, let alone something as enormous as disarmament.
Maybe you’re still in favor of red flag laws, even knowing they violate so many rights. Maybe you think that “the ends justify the means,” and that it’s worth it if it “saves just one life.” Consider, however, that almost any oppressive government action can be justified on similar grounds.
During World War II, over 100,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned in internment camps. It’s statistically quite possible that at least one of those people might have committed murder during that time had they not been interned. Would that justify the atrocity of unjustly detaining thousands of people, just to potentially save one life? Of course not. That’s not how liberty works.
After any tragedy, it’s tempting to call upon our elected officials to “do something” to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But it’s not enough to simply do “something” — one must do the right thing. The right thing, in this case, is to steadfastly protect the rights of everyone (even those we fear).
I oppose gun control because I believe that the right to defend oneself is an inherent, natural right that exists independently of government. But you don’t have to believe that in order to oppose red flag laws. You don’t have to like guns at all. Maybe you even hate them. But do you hate due process? Do you hate the concept of “innocent until proven guilty?”
If not, you should stand with me and urge our leaders to oppose red flag laws at every level.
Tony Lovasco is a state representative from Missouri House District 64.