The acrid stench of gun­pow­der and cries of chil­dren at Robb Elementary School in Texas had hard­ly dis­si­pat­ed when the polit­i­cal pos­tur­ing began. Many ridiculed “thoughts and prayers.” Others vowed to resist any attempt to lim­it their “God-giv­en right” to own weapons of war.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott described the mur­ders of 19 chil­dren and two teach­ers as “pure evil.” His Democratic chal­lenger, Beto O’ Rourke, inter­rupt­ed his press con­fer­ence by shout­ing that the gov­er­nor had done noth­ing to pre­vent the carnage.

people walking on street during daytime

Although the gov­er­nor and leg­is­la­ture have com­mit­ted more fund­ing for law enforce­ment in schools and men­tal health resources for stu­dents, they have also enact­ed irre­spon­si­ble laws allow­ing any­one 18 years old or old­er to car­ry firearms with­out a license or training. 

In near­ly all mass shoot­ings in this coun­try, the weapons of choice have been AR-15s, which, though not “machine guns,” can be fired rapid­ly and hold large-capac­i­ty mag­a­zines. No one who isn’t a sol­dier or a police offi­cer has any busi­ness hav­ing one, but the courts disagree.

Most Americans sup­port the right to have firearms for shoot­ing sports and self-pro­tec­tion. I’m one of those Americans. I have large-cal­iber hand­guns for home defense and enjoy using high-pow­ered rifles with scopes to shoot dis­tant tar­gets. I don’t hunt, but I don’t have any­thing against those who do.

While most Americans sup­port gun own­er­ship, we also want com­mon­sense restric­tions, such as expand­ed back­ground checks for all gun pur­chas­es, a 30-day wait­ing peri­od, and reg­is­tra­tion of guns with the police. 

In September 2019, an ABC News/Washington Post sur­vey found that near­ly nine in 10 Americans favor uni­ver­sal back­ground checks. Even among Republicans, a 2021 Quinnipiac University poll found that 84 per­cent sup­port that position.

Nevertheless, a major­i­ty of Americans also say those mea­sures would have lit­tle or no impact on mass shootings.

That’s because most gun con­trol laws are aimed at pre­vent­ing gun crimes by per­sis­tent crim­i­nals. Background checks at the time of gun pur­chas­es only deter­mine if a buy­er has a crim­i­nal record, not whether he is a sociopath. These checks are intend­ed to reduce drug gang activ­i­ty and rob­beries, not sense­less acts of vio­lence by dis­turbed young men who have vio­lent fan­tasies but no police record.

What could pre­vent mass shoot­ings like the ones in Uvalde, Texas, last week, and at a gro­cery in Buffalo, New York, just days before, are red flag laws.

The idea is sim­ple. If some­one exhibits vio­lent behav­ior or talks about com­mit­ting a heinous act, a fam­i­ly mem­ber or police offi­cer could get a judge to issue an emer­gency pro­tec­tive order to take away his guns and pre­vent him from acquir­ing oth­ers as long as the order remains in place.

There is a bur­den of proof on the peti­tion­er, and due process is fol­lowed through­out. There is noth­ing uncon­sti­tu­tion­al about it. It is sim­i­lar to an abused woman get­ting a domes­tic vio­lence order to keep her estranged hus­band away. It’s real­ly a stretch to even call red flag laws “gun control.” 

Red flag laws are main­ly intend­ed to pre­vent sui­cides and domes­tic homi­cides, but they are also rel­e­vant to mass shoot­ings. In most cas­es, men­tal­ly ill indi­vid­u­als post some­thing online, say some­thing to an acquain­tance or leave tell-tale signs of what they want to do. I would argue that if an 18-year-old who has exhib­it­ed anti-social behav­ior goes out and buys two AR-15s and thou­sands of rounds of ammu­ni­tion, that is itself a red flag.

…in every one of the dead­liest school shoot­ings, the shoot­er exhib­it­ed behav­ior before the shoot­ing that could have trig­gered a well-draft­ed red flag law.

As David French, a con­sti­tu­tion­al lawyer and con­ser­v­a­tive writer, points out in a recent com­men­tary for The Dispatch, “in every one of the dead­liest school shoot­ings, the shoot­er exhib­it­ed behav­ior before the shoot­ing that could have trig­gered a well-draft­ed red flag law.”

The shoot­er at the Buffalo super­mar­ket, for exam­ple, when asked last spring at his school what he want­ed to do after grad­u­a­tion, said he would like to com­mit a murder/suicide.

The same ABC News/Washington Post poll that showed near­ly unan­i­mous sup­port for expand­ed back­ground checks also showed that 86 per­cent of Americans sup­port red flag laws.

As with most things, the American peo­ple are not as divid­ed as par­ty activists and politi­cians are.

There are 19 states that cur­rent­ly have red flag laws. Kentucky had an oppor­tu­ni­ty a cou­ple of years ago to be the 20th, but gave in to the para­noid rav­ings of the “lib­er­ty” extrem­ists who are more fear­ful of an imag­i­nary gov­ern­ment tyran­ny than they are of the real threat of mass mur­der by peo­ple with no polit­i­cal motive.

This week, the major­i­ty leader of the Senate con­vened a bipar­ti­san group to look at ways to pre­vent school shoot­ings. One place they should start is to make red flag laws a real­i­ty in every state and com­mu­ni­ty in the coun­try. There is no moral, legal or con­sti­tu­tion­al basis for oppos­ing this. The oppo­si­tion is all about pol­i­tics. And where our children’s lives are in jeop­ardy, polit­i­cal games­man­ship should not be a factor.

  • Randy Patrick

    Randy Patrick is a deputy coun­ty clerk for elec­tions and vot­er reg­is­tra­tion and a for­mer reporter and edi­tor of The Winchester Sun.