It has been a tough couple of weeks for Americans. Evil young men committed mass murders, which sicken and outrage us all. A motorcycle backfires in Times Square and New Yorkers nearly trample each other as they panic. Many people feel frightened, insecure and angry, and they want SOMETHING done.

Now President Trump and some Republican leaders support “red flag” laws to prevent mass murders. Many Democrats consider this a starting point. Some openly advocate eliminating the second amendment and other constitutionally guaranteed civil rights as a solution. Please consider where we are headed.

At last count, around fourteen states had enacted red flag laws. Details vary, but here’s how they work. Someone identifies a person as a threat. 

Police then, empowered by an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO), confiscate the firearms possessed by the suspect. The process is quick and will, allegedly, pre-empt any violent action by the suspect. However, the suspect has not been convicted of a crime. The suspect has not been adjudicated mentally incompetent in a court of law. 

The suspect may or may not, after a great deal of effort, time, and expense, be able to go through a legal process to recover his or her confiscated property. This is what is wrong with red flag laws. A citizen is deprived of his property, and possibly his freedom, without the due process of law guaranteed by the Constitution. A citizen is considered guilty until proven innocent.  

Yes, it is quick. Any time government officials can act as they wish without restriction, they act quickly. The slow legal process, due process of law, exists to protect those of us who are not rich or powerful, or part of a specially protected class of people, against abuse. Unfortunately, right now, too many Americans believe this denial of civil rights will only be used against people they distrust or dislike. That’s not how it will work.

Suppose an angry, abusive ex-husband learns that his ex-wife has armed herself with a handgun because she doesn’t want to take another beating at his hands. Under a red flag law, he claims she is mentally unstable, endangering him and his children, who are in her custody, and arranges for the police to confiscate her handgun. He uses an ERPO to exact revenge on her. He also makes her more vulnerable to his next attack.  

And red flag laws probably won’t stop murders. The recent mass murders have been committed by evil young men who were willing to kill innocents and die in the process. Confiscate firearms from a person determined to commit murder and he will acquire firearms illegally or turn to other weapons such as explosives, combustible substances, toxic gases, edged weapons or large vehicles. 

All of these have effectively been used in mass murders. 

If this is the case, the only alternative is to jail any person who is capable of murder and has made hostile statements. Most Americans already fit that description. How many of us should be imprisoned because of unfounded accusations?

If ERPOs should be employed to confiscate property in the form of firearms, the precedent can later be used to confiscate any property from a person who has angered or frightened someone. Citizens’ assets could be attacked because someone thinks they spend foolishly. A citizen’s vehicle can be seized because an angry neighbor claims its owner operated it unsafely. All without due process of law. These scenarios may sound fantastic, but civil forfeiture laws already allow administrative confiscation of property owned by innocent parties in drug investigations. This can get worse.

Firearms are the property of citizens. In fact, they are the only form of property which the Constitution explicitly guarantees citizens may own, and the Founding Fathers had good reason for doing this. Even if you neither own nor like firearms, remember none of us want a law enforcement system which allows our property to be confiscated or our citizens to be jailed on the strength of unproven accusations. In a country where some people claim any verbal disagreement amounts to “hate speech” we cannot afford to surrender our civil rights. Some Americans are prepared to surrender their civil rights in exchange for safety. If red flag laws are enacted, they will have neither rights nor safety. Please write President Trump and our senators and congressman and tell them to find a better solution than red flag laws.

 

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