Following two deadly weekend mass shootings, politicians and gun control activists have floated the idea of instituting so-called “red flag” laws as a gun violence prevention measure. In response, commenters on social media this week resurfaced the 2018 case of a Maryland man shot by a police officer trying to enforce the city’s “red flag” law.
“Red flag” laws, sometimes called extreme risk protection order laws, allow police or people with close ties to a gun owner to petition courts for orders that require individuals deemed a threat to temporarily surrender their firearms. In 2018, more than 1,700 such orders were issued, according to the Associated Press.
14 states have already passed “red flag” laws.
While the intent of the policy is to prevent tragedy before it strikes, critics worry about potential abuses in implementing the law.
Several users on Twitter this week raised such concerns by highlighting the death of 61-year-old Maryland resident Gary J. Willis last year.
In November, Willis was shot and killed during a raid on his home triggered by the issuing of an extreme risk protective order, which stipulated the removal of firearms from his household, CBS Baltimore reported.
When two Anne Arundel County officers arrived in the early morning to serve the “red flag” order, Willis became upset and grabbed his handgun. One officer tried to take the gun away, and Willis fired. The second officer opened fire in return, hitting Willis, who died at the scene.
According to CBS Baltimore, it is not clear who petitioned for the protective order against Willis.
The debate over red flag laws
In the wake of recent tragedies in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, politicians have suggested various measures to combat a surge in American mass shootings. And while conservatives have historically been less than bullish on gun control, “red flag” laws have been an area where some Democrats and Republicans have found common ground.
GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw likely surprised many of his Texas constituents on Sunday when he suggested that “red flag” laws might be a potential solution to gun violence.
The solutions aren’t obvious, even if we pretend they are. But we must try. Let’s start with the TAPS Act. Maybe also implement state “red flag” laws, or gun violence restraining orders. Stop them before they can hurt someone.https://t.co/2G2pZSWaF1
— Rep. Dan Crenshaw (@RepDanCrenshaw) August 4, 2019
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is another Republican who’s expressed support for “red flag” legislation, telling WHAS 840 on Thursday that the measure will be “front and center” during Senate discussions.
But others on the right remain unpersuaded.
Jesse Kelly, a senior contributor at The Federalist, cited America’s polarized political climate to explain this week why he’s worried about laws that allow people to petition for the confiscation of their fellow citizen’s firearms.
Why am I against Red Flag Laws? Well let’s see. The Democrats and the media have spent two years accusing every Trump voter of being a “white nationalist”. Now they want to put me on a government watch list. Is it really a big leap to see where this ends? https://t.co/ZXVUSRO55l
— Jesse Kelly (@JesseKellyDC) August 8, 2019
Kentucky GOP Rep. Thomas Massie said in May that “red flag” laws are “ripe for abuse.”
Red flag laws are:
🚩Ripe for abuse
Thanks to Colorado Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams and @JohnRLottJr of Crime Prevention Research Center for joining me in this in-depth interview about red flag laws! Watch here – https://t.co/2jBaeVi729
— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) May 17, 2019
Meanwhile, Mike Glenn, a Gulf War veteran and reporter for the Houston Chronicle, raised concerns about due process rights.
Can someone explain to me how a Red Flag law can be squared with someone's constitutionally-protected right to due process?
I'm actually serious here. Not a lawyer.
— (((Mike Glenn))) (@mrglenn) August 8, 2019
“Can someone explain to me how a Red Flag law can be squared with someone’s constitutionally-protected right to due process?” Glenn tweeted on Thursday.