A federal red flag law would save lives and give Trump a much needed win

Recent press reports speculate that President Trump’s advisors are urging him to abandon gun reform efforts, fearing it could splinter Republican support needed for his reelection bid and his impeachment battle. 

Although seemingly counterintuitive, now is the perfect time to pass a federal red flag law. Doing so would demonstrate the President’s resolve to lead in the face of Democratic opposition on multiple fronts, and prove the White House is focused on the nation’s business despite the impeachment proceedings. And it would oblige gun safety advocates to laud the President.

The political cost of passing a federal red flag law may be lower than expected. These laws (also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders) appear to have bipartisan appeal, having been passed in red states as well as blue — 17 states and the District of Columbia to date

Virginia, which just turned blue, is certain to pass one. Red state Florida passed a red flag law in March 2018 in response to the Parkland shooting.

The special “Risk Protection” courts have already issued over 2,600 orders to temporarily remove guns from people who are troubled (for example, those who are deemed suicidal, suspected of planning a mass shooting, or have threatened others with their guns).

Moreover, the proposed federal law only provides incentives (such as funding and training) for states that choose to pass their own. It does not mandate states to do so.

Passing a federal red flag law could save lives if these incentives have the desired effect, especially in red states where gun deaths tend to be higher as a percentage of the population than in blue states. 

One study found that for every 10 risk orders issued, at least one suicide was prevented. In 2017, six in ten gun-related deaths in the U.S. were suicides (23,854). Red flag laws, properly implemented, could play an important role in lowering those grim numbers.

Although there is no peer-reviewed research on the issue yet, there is reason to believe red flag laws could help prevent mass shootings. In nearly every school shooting, the shooter was known to be troubled.

That was the case with the Parkland shooting — without a red flag law, there was little law enforcement officials could have done to prevent the shooting.  Gun safety advocates argue that red flag laws provide a much-needed tool for families and law enforcement officials to take action to prevent mass shootings.

For a president who takes pride in thinking for himself, bucking his advisors’ advice on this issue makes perfect sense. He is unlikely to lose committed supporters, and he might broaden support beyond his base.

Signaling that he will sign such a law if it is put before him will disrupt the negative news cycle. Signing it will make history. The last president to achieve gun control legislation of this magnitude was Ronald Reagan. That translates into a much-needed win for President Trump and for the nation. 

Sarah C. Peck, J.D., is the director of #UnitedOnGuns, an initiative of the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston

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