by William Skink
With the elections over, what agendas will emerge as priorities in Missoula? Snow is on the ground, which my kids are ecstatic about, but the homeless individuals unable to access shelter services due to substance abuse? Probably not so much. Will a wet shelter, or some other alternative to ER rooms and jail cells, finally get the focus and funding it deserves?
I know one priority that is going to emerge—in fact, was already being articulated before last night’s shooting in California—and it will become the next contentious step in Missoula’s attempt to impose its guaranteed-to-fail gun control agenda on Montana: red flag laws.
I will continue to express my opinion that political capital spent on Missoula’s gun control efforts have been a waste of time and resources, distracting Missoula’s political leadership from the more dire needs of their non-coastal-transplant constituents.
So, what are red flag laws? This is how Mother Jones describes these laws:
Red flag laws, sometimes called extreme risk protection order laws, allow a judge to issue an order that enables law enforcement to confiscate guns from individuals deemed a risk to themselves or others. Since the Parkland shooting, at least two dozen states have considered enacting similar laws in their states. In Vermont, a red flag law has already passed the both the Senate and House.
“We think this is a sensible approach to put power in the hands of family members who are concerned about [someone] but don’t have any tools in their hands,” says Kristin Brown, the co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
According to the Brady Campaign, 42 percent of mass shooters exhibited warning signs before committing their crimes. Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old responsible for the Stoneman Douglas shooting, was on law enforcement’s radar and the FBI had been alerted about his behavior.
Red flag laws are a fairly simple process. Depending on the state, family members or law enforcement can go to court and seek an order that would allow police to remove guns from the individual’s home and restrict their ability to purchase firearms. The person seeking the order must first fill out a form providing evidence of danger to others or self, then the court holds an expedited hearing. If a judge agrees that the individual is a threat, their guns will be removed for a temporary period that can last from a few weeks to a year.
The “fairly simple process” described here is still a process only a court can enact, so if there are already problems with the criminal justice system in a given community, like there are in Missoula and Montana, then I would imagine the courts would need more resources in order to properly oversee implementing red flag laws. Where are those resources going to come from in a state that just voted to erase health coverage for 100,000 Montanans?
Cost is just one problem advocates for gun control will need to address in order to make their case. Another problem with this approach to gun control is the potential chilling effect this could have for someone suffering from depression. It’s difficult enough to get people, especially men, to talk about their struggles with mental health. If those men are also gun owners, and they know coming forward could mean their guns will be taken from them, how many people are going to decide NOT to reach out for help?
Yet another issue is how this reporting system could be abused. There are lots of dysfunctional families out there, made worse by our divisive political environment, and I can see heated arguments turning into attempts by disgruntled family members to get someone’s guns taken away as revenge/retribution. This will just add more work to already over-burdened courts.
Then there’s the question of, if passed into law, will it work? The dead shooter in last night’s rampage had a mental health contact by law enforcement in April. The Parkland shooter similarily provided multiple opportunities for law enforcement to intervene. How did that work out?
I don’t want to see local efforts to address suicide get hijacked by the Missoula gun control clique.
I would love to see an all-hands-on-deck effort to save Medicaid expansion in Montana because failing to find a solution to this looming crisis will cause signifcant harm to tens if thousands of our friends and family.