One look at the news over the last several weeks will tell you that mass shootings in the United States are becoming more and more frequent. As a result, millions of Americans are calling for immediate action citing the country’s lack of proper gun control laws. Recently, gun control advocates have been pushing for red flag laws and gun violence restraining orders. While it is critically important to address the gun violence plaguing our country, politicians should not waste valuable political capital on the current proposals which will be ineffective and infringe on Americans’ constitutional rights. Instead, they should focus on other gun violence policies that address the deeper structural issues within the current gun control system.
Red flag laws or gun violence restraining orders (GVROs) are laws that allow police officers or community members to obtain a court order to confiscate a firearm from someone that they believe to be an immediate threat to themselves or others. There are two critical problems with GVROs, and the first is the fact that they don’t work. The main reason is a lack of proper information and reporting. Too often, previous convictions aren’t entered into databases and thus cannot be used as grounds to confiscate firearms. For this reason, experts conclude that GVROs would not have stopped most mass shootings such as those in Parkland, Florida and Dayton, Ohio. Additionally, GVROs are often issued on the basis of false evidence or sometimes no evidence at all, leading police to misallocate their time attempting to enforce restraining orders on those that would never actually need one.
The second is that it violates Americans’ 5th Amendment right to due process and 4th amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. The concept that one is innocent until proven guilty is one of the handful of ideals that make up the bedrock of the American legal system. Under a GVRO, the legal system considers you guilty of a crime that hasn’t even been committed yet. Anybody including police, neighbors, distant family members, or disgruntled coworkers can make completely unsubstantiated claims to judges that are not given enough time to thoroughly review the case. Too often will police officers arrive at suspects’ doors to search for and confiscate guns that they may or may not even own – often times without the prior knowledge of the subject of the search – without the suspect being given the opportunity to defend themselves in court.
Luckily, GVROs don’t need to be the hill that gun control advocates die on. Other policies can be passed, such as increasing funding to expand and strengthen the capacity of the NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) database which would make background checks more accurate. Additionally, eliminating open carry laws in southern states would prevent shooters from legally carrying guns into large public spaces. Gun violence must be stopped, but not at the expense of our 4th and 5th amendment rights. Doing so would fundamentally undermine the foundation upon which the American legal system stands.