USA Today reports that 22 states and the District of Columbia are debating red flag bills. Arkansas' legislature isn't in session just now, but here's hoping we don't get left too far behind. The momentum behind this trend might proving fleeting. As momentum does. But it's far too important to let slide long.
These laws would allow family members, law enforcement types, or maybe just folks who know the person best to seek court orders to temporarily take firearms away from those who show certain "red flags." Emphasis on court orders. For a judge would have to (1) agree with the petitioners and (2) sign off on it. An angry brother-in-law couldn't have your guns taken away after some disagreement on a lawnmower deal.
These laws have been around for a while, but most of America began seriously thinking about them after the Florida school shooting back in February, when police say a troubled kid (and how) walked onto the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus in Parkland and killed 17 people.
The accused down in Florida had enough red flags to warrant something happening. Some reports say the cops were called to his home 23 times. CNN reports 45. A neighbor told cops in 2016 the kid planned to shoot up a school. Infamously, last fall the FBI got a tip saying just that. And somebody called the FBI's hotline about him in January. For the FBI's part, a spokesman tells the nation that "protocols were not followed." And now 17 people are dead.
There might be as many ideas about red-flag laws as there are lawmakers in each state thinking about them. But some ideas are better than others. Some folks talk about "common-sense gun laws"--well, here's one:
• If a family member or law enforcement type thinks it necessary, they could petition a court to take somebody's firearms to prevent immediate danger. To himself or others.
• A full hearing should be scheduled quickly, for due process is still, well, due in this country.
• If a judge agrees that the person is showing some sort of disturbing pattern, a longer order can be issued. Maybe more importantly for the ACLU and NRA crowd (what a strange pairing), if a judge disagrees, the person gets his guns back.
There is already opposition. Much from the two outfits mentioned above. But a person shouldn't be allowed to die, or kill, with his rights on. The Constitution, it was once said, isn't a suicide pact. Or it certainly shouldn't be.
How would this work in the real world? Dispatches from Florida say the week after such legislation was signed by the governor, a judge in Broward County issued the state's first order to un-arm, temporarily, a disturbed man--who believed electrical breakers were electrocuting him and that the FBI had sent shape-shifters to get him. The state took away four weapons and a couple hundred rounds of ammo. Which seems . . . perfectly reasonable. Here's hoping the state also gets the poor fella the help he needs.
In this debate, there are few opportunities for bipartisan compromise. This is one. Let's take advantage of it while we still can.
cc: Arkansas' legislature
Now then, about the case in Vilonia, Ark . . . . The public prints have documented enough of the troubles of the student in question. And the worries of the school district. It really shouldn't be an editorialist's lot to draw conclusions on a matter better left to the courts, and school system, and the myriad of experts who've lined up to give their (better informed) opinions.
But, and there's always a but:
But what, do you suppose, would be written here if something were to happen after these warning signs had been ignored? The school district in Vilonia has a duty to educate all children, and officials there apparently know it. For they've said as much in court documents. But they also have the duty to protect children, too.
It all starts by recognizing red flags. But only starts. Action must follow. With an assist by a judge in good standing.
Editorial on 03/31/2018