The red flag fallacy: Why should politicians get to define 'sanity'?

The red flag fallacy: Why should politicians get to define 'sanity'?
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American trust in the government is at an all-time low. And yet, in the wake of so much bloodshed this month, the bipartisan push for “red flag” laws has made an unfortunate comeback into the public conversation.

Since the legislation’s supporters are far from unified on the specifics of the law, it should trouble all Americans that so much progress has been made towards its passage. Indeed, no one supporting it can seem to reach an agreement as to who should be prevented from owning a firearm, how long their property should be taken away, or what the new standards for “poor mental health” should be.

Just last week, for example, Jeffrey Swanson, professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University, admitted in an interview with MSNBC that “it’s way more likely that this is going to be someone’s young adult son, or maybe your granddad [who’s] bereaved or drinking heavily and has all of these guns…” 


Contrary to Swanson’s interpretation, President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden on Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power: 'What country are we in?' Romney: 'Unthinkable and unacceptable' to not commit to peaceful transition of power Two Louisville police officers shot amid Breonna Taylor grand jury protests MORE (likely the idea’s leading advocate in the GOP) recently tweeted that CNN’s Chris CuomoChris CuomoCNN's Don Lemon: 'Blow up the entire system' remark taken out of context CNN's Lemon: 'We're going to have to blow up the entire system' if Democrats win back White House, Senate Giuliani criticizes NYC leadership: 'They're killing this city' MORE “shouldn’t be allowed to have any weapon. He’s nuts!” Meanwhile, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHarris faces pivotal moment with Supreme Court battle Nearly 40 Democratic senators call for climate change questions in debates Joe Biden has long forgotten North Carolina: Today's visit is too late MORE (D-Calif.), at a campaign event in Iowa, just announced her own version of the red flag law, one that would work specifically to take guns from the hands of domestic terrorists and “white nationalists”. 

The questionable remarks from Swanson, Trump and Harris necessitate perhaps the most important question the American people should be asking: At what point does “Let’s take guns away from at-risk people” become “Let’s take guns away from people I don’t like”?

Despite this, multiple governors (Republican and Democrat) have spoken out in its favor, including Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, Wisconsin’s Tony Evers, Ohio’s Mike DeWine, Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf, North Carolina’s Roy Cooper and Arizona’s c

Several influential Congressional Republicans have also jumped on the gun-grab bandwagon, as Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate GOP aims to confirm Trump court pick by Oct. 29: report The Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting Senate GOP sees early Supreme Court vote as political booster shot MORE, Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyAppeals court rules NSA's bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel GOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy MORE, and Dan CrenshawDaniel CrenshawSecond night of GOP convention outdraws Democrats' event with 19.4 million viewers GOP sticks to convention message amid uproar over Blake shooting The Hill's Convention Report: Mike and Karen Pence set to headline third night of convention MORE have already started working to make  “red flag” laws a reality from coast-to-coast. This brings another question into the spotlight: Is the GOP waving the “white flag” in the war against guns? 

In the broadest possible terms, these laws are supposed to give law enforcement the authority to seize firearms from people deemed too “mentally unfit” for them, in the event that they may be planning an attack. To a rational person, that basic premise might sound reasonable at first. But what does the evidence say these measures have been good for?


Well, much like war, the answer is absolutely nothing (at least, other than destroying the lives and liberties of millions). 

The shortcomings of these laws are not a new observation, however; the U.S. already has “red flag” laws in nearly half the country, with 17 states and Washington D.C. having enacted them in recent years. Ten of the states that passed them did so shortly following the 2017 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., with some passing even more severe forms of gun control legislation.

Data gathered from Connecticut and Indiana (the states that have had these laws the longest) clearly show that the only impact produced by the states’ red flag laws was with suicides, not mass shootings. While gun-related suicides dropped by ten percent or less in both states, overall suicides (regardless of whether or not a firearm was involved) did not drop by a single percentage point following the passage of red flag legislation.

Barring the numerous failures of red flag legislation, however, one more question remains to be asked by the American people: Should we really trust our politicians’ definitions of who is “mentally fit” and who isn’t? And why should people who don’t see a problem with a $22 trillion debt, record incarceration rates, or never-ending wars in foreign countries get to decide what “insanity” is?

As the old adage goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting a different result. Giving sweeping power to the government to solve our problems and trading liberty for security has never worked, and red flag laws are no exception.

Cliff Maloney is the president of Young Americans for Liberty. YAL’s mission is to identify, educate, train and mobilize youth activists to #MakeLibertyWin.