The 2018 midterm elections produced a split Congress with Democrats gaining control of the House and Republicans gaining seats in the Senate.
The Guardian detailed House Democrats’ desire to pass gun control legislation in the upcoming Congress:
“Ted Deutch, a Democratic congressman from Florida who represents Parkland, where a February school shooting left 17 dead, said this week that he expected House Democrats to focus on bills with more bipartisan support. Those measures included bump stock bans and “extreme risk protection orders”, also known as red flag laws, which give law enforcement and family members a way to petition a court to temporarily bar an unstable person from buying or owning guns.”
What Are Red Flag Laws?
Red flag laws or Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) are the euphemistic label for a variety of new proposed gun-control laws. Under red flag laws, law enforcement has the ability to confiscate an individual’s firearms who is deemed a threat to themselves or others. A simple accusation from a family member, friend, or associate will suffice to seize someone’s firearms.
These laws, mind you, operate in the absence of normal due process. The accused in these cases could have their weapons confiscated without even so much as a hearing a before a judge. It could take months before a gun owner could appear in court to win back his gun rights.
Thirteen states currently have red flag laws on the books. What started out as a state-level movement may have some legs at the federal level. Although it’s true that Congressional Democrats are making gun control a major theme of their legislative agenda, it’s naïve to think red flag laws are only relevant because of “gun-grabbing” Democrats have taken power.
As we’ll see below, red flag laws have a history of bipartisan support. And when any piece of legislation has Democrats and Republicans locking arms in agreement, you know trouble lies ahead.
The Gun Control Bipartisan Status Quo
Despite the passionate campaign rhetoric, a significant portion of Republican politicians will change colors on gun rights once in DC. Several GOP members in the upcoming Congress stick out like a sore thumb when it comes to their gun control advocacy:
Brian Mast: A Congressman from Florida’s 18th district, Brian Mast penned an op-ed for the New York Times a few months ago calling for the ban of so-called “assault weapons” and a number of firearms accessories. However, actions, not words, are what matter most in politics. Mast went on to co-sponsor H.R. 2598, a bill which authorizes the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services to provide grants to states with red flag laws on the book.
Marco Rubio: Following the Parkland shootings, Rubio joined the gun control chorus by sponsoring a red flagbill along with Democrat Senators Joe Manchin, Bill Nelson, & Jack Reed. Rubio has even flirted with the idea of regulations on magazine clips, raising the minimum age to buy certain firearms like AR-15s, and tweaking the current background check system.
Rick Scott: Former Governor of Florida and now a US Senator from Florida, Rick Scott poses an interesting threat to gun rights. Despite his ostensible anti-gun-control rhetoric, Scott signed SB 7026 Florida’s most expansive gun control measure in recent history. Scott’s SB 7026 contains red flag provisions, raises the age to buy a firearm to 21, and imposes a three-day waiting period for all firearms purchases.
Larry Hogan: On April 24, 2018, Maryland Governor Hogan signed a series of gun bills, one which included a red flag law. In October, the first month Maryland’s red flag law went into effect, there were 114 requests to confiscate individuals’ firearms.
Maryland’s red flag law has not been without its fair share of controversy.
At 5 a.m on Monday, November 5, two police officers came knocking on 61-year-old Gary Willis’ door to serve him a court order mandating that he turn over his guns. What seemed like a typical court order, quickly turned deadly as one of the cops shot and killed Willis in a struggle that ensued. Quick to defend one of his own, Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare defended the cops’ action by callously claiming that they “did the best they could with the situation they had.”
The tragic incident in Maryland is an ominous sign of what is to come should red flag laws gain more traction.
Whether or not Republicans will support new Red Flag laws is anyone’s guess. The bigger problem at hand is an ideological one, and opponents of gun control would do well to stop putting their faith in the winner-take-all electoral slugfest we see at the federal level every 4 years, and to embrace decentralization instead.