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 TrumpGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Warren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes MORE (likely the idea’s leading advocate in the GOP) recently tweeted that CNN’s Chris CuomoChristopher (Chris) Charles CuomoScaramucci: Trump sees Bloomberg as threat Schiff: Trump helped House Republicans plan to storm SCIF NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo uses N-word during radio interview MORE “shouldn’t be allowed to have any weapon. He’s nuts!” Meanwhile, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisWarren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Dems put focus on stemming veteran suicides The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary 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 GrahamGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Graham: Senate trial 'must expose the whistleblower' Graham says Schiff should be a witness in Trump impeachment trial MORE, Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns MORE, and Dan CrenshawDaniel CrenshawLawmakers call for extra security for anti-Erdoğan protesters  Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising Texas investigating parental dispute into whether 7-year-old is transgender 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.