Here we are on the heels of three horrific mass murders, and the topic of the day seems to be what are commonly referred to as “red flag” laws. These laws are intended to provide a tool for intervention when someone is feared to be a potential (not actual) violent actor. There are two major problems with that.
The first problem is that we are terrible at predicting future behavior. As I mentioned in a recent post, even professionals in the psychology field readily admit that even they have an extremely difficult time predicting violent behavior. They also stress (truthfully) that the vast majority of mentally ill people are not violent. So it is obvious that even with the scrutiny of professional psychiatrists and psychologists, it would be a practical impossibility to preemptively disarm the violent mentally ill with any degree of accuracy.
This brings us to the second problem. With no ability to reliably predict the first-time violent offender, “red flag” laws will necessarily cast a wide net, thrown out by amateurs (as opposed to psychiatric professionals) in order to attempt to scoop up anyone and everyone who might be a threat. This will necessarily result in many innocent people…who have never been criminally violent and don’t intend to be…having their lawfully-owned property seized with no due process.
In commercial fishing terms, this is known as “bycatch,” and it is what happens when the net you throw in hopes of catching one species also collects others which have no way to escape. “Red flag” laws are the same thing, except it is with human beings instead of fish. We cringe at the idea of dolphins in fishing nets, but we are OK with human rights being trampled in the name of feelgood legislation which will solve nothing?
Let’s look at it through a lens other than guns. As Claude Werner points out in a recent post, imagine how many lives we could save if we made breathalyzer ignition locks mandatory in all cars in the US. Don’t even grandfather it…require retrofitting even on cars manufactured before the law was enacted. Sure, it would inconvenience a lot of people who don’t drive drunk (or even drink at all), but it would undoubtedly stop a lot of drunk drivers from killing. What’s a little bycatch as long as we save lives, right? Sure…try passing that law.
The thing is, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and we already have systems in place to deal with that. People with violent criminal histories, or are under domestic violence orders, or have been legally designated as mentally ill (even if nonviolent) are already federally prohibited from possessing guns.
“Red flag” laws simply create a bigger net (which you don’t need a fishing license to use) which will result in more bycatch…more innocents getting their rights violated. Hope you like a lot of dolphin in your tuna.