By Jon Vitale
Elm Staff Writer
A controversial new bill has become law in Colorado. The new “Red Flag law” will allow for police officers to seize guns from individuals that they believe to be a threat to themselves or others for up to a year, or mandate a private transfer to a family member via court order.
Colorado is not the first state to approve such a law. Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Indiana, Illinois, California, Washington, Oregon, and Florida already have red flag laws in place, and so does the District of Columbia. However, the recent adoption of the policy in Colorado has led to a particular strain of controversy. Some sheriffs have gone so far as to say they would rather go to jail themselves than enforce the law, which they deem unconstitutional.
According to the Denver Channel, some 34 counties in Colorado have declared themselves part of the “red flag resistance” and stand against enforcing the bill within their borders.
Like a lot of gun control policy, Red Flag laws seem like a sensible measure on the surface. If the mission of gun laws is to keep people safe, what better way than to disarm those who pose a threat to themselves and others?
However, the law has some glaring problems that should make other states take caution with implementing such policies.
In their attempts to make people safe, Red Flag laws set an alarming precedent regarding interpretations of both the Constitution and property rights, and sometimes put citizens at greater risk.
Gun owners have as much a right to their private property as any other citizen does, and for the government to seize guns without just cause is a blatant violation of those property rights. While just cause is technically required to issue a Red Flag court order, there is no strict layout to exactly what constitutes “just cause.” Just as the blurry lines of probable cause during searches and seizures sometimes make the protection of Fourth Amendment rights unclear, Red Flag laws tread on the protections of our Second Amendment rights.
When the government is given the power to seize a person’s guns when it sees fit, there are consequences. In California, in 2017, there were 159 gun seizures. In only the first three months of Maryland’s Red Flag laws being in effect, there were 148 seizures and an additional 150 requests dismissed. This means that more than half of attempted seizures during that time in Maryland lacked just cause.
This happens because the law allows for guns to be seized before the gun owner has a chance to appear in court to dispute the seizure. In one incident in 2018, a 61-year-old man in Baltimore was killed by police in a confrontation that began over an attempted seizure of his legally owned firearm. While there is no statistical evidence proving that Red Flag laws actually prevent crimes relating to firearms, there is at least one case where they played a role in a man’s death.
Giving the government the ability to seize citizens’ guns unconstitutionally undermines the Second Amendment and the Bill of Rights as a whole. The Bill of Rights gives citizens constitutional protection of their individual rights against excessive government force — laws that allow unfair seizure of private property violate that.
Frequently, advocates for gun control call for the adoption of “common sense” gun regulations. Red Flag laws go beyond that. They are excessive, ineffective, and unfair. We can and should have conversations about common sense gun laws, but it is just as important we oppose radical damaging policies like Red Flag laws.