Red Flag Laws Deserve Their Own Red Flag

A St. Louis police officer was shot and wounded Friday afternoon during a welfare check for a man whose relatives were concerned about his mental health, law enforcement officials said.

Associated Press/April 28, 2023

“Red Flag” laws are gun safety measures which  allow law enforcement officials to confiscate firearms, following a judicial process, from individuals who exhibit behaviors which suggest they might use such weapons to harm themselves or others.  Advocates, at first glance, might say the above AP story is a perfect example of why “red flag” laws are necessary.

I am not so sure.  No, I have not suddenly become a rabid defender of the perverted interpretation of the Second Amendment on display at the recent NRA annual meeting in Washington, D.C.  Nor do I believe the right to defend one’s property is absolute.  This morning, however, I wonder if the responsibility for enforcing “red flag” situations is unnecessarily putting law enforcement officers at risk of injury or death.  If I am guilty of anything, it is aiding and abetting true conservatives (as opposed to MAGA world) who believe government should not be responsible for solving all of society’s ills.

Take another look at the first sentence in the AP story from a journalistic perspective.  The lede is supposed to be a factual summation of the critical aspects of the narrative.  You know, the what, who, where, when and why.

  • What?  There was a shooting.
  • Who?  Of a law enforcement officer who went to check on the mental health of a citizen.
  • Where?  The citizen’s home.
  • When? After relatives reported the shooter might be mentally unstable.
  • Why?  Because a 71-year-old man who relatives claim was delusional saw two police officers approaching his home.

Advocates of “red flag” laws say this is a “common sense” solution that will reduce gun violence.  My “common sense” tells me something different.  You do not send uniformed police officers or even a mental health expert in civilian clothes to interact with an armed, perhaps paranoid individual.  Especially if that individual is exposed to cable news or social media, day in and day out, spreading stories how the authorities are coming to get him.  You do not need to call a psychic like the late Jeane Dixon to predict the outcome

Consider an alternative in this case. Start with an assumption, Grandpa’s relatives knew he owned a handgun.  If not, why would they call the police, rather than a social worker, to check in on him.  They knew he was dangerous.

When they realized he was exhibiting signs of mental instability, would it not make more sense for one of them to suggest, “Maybe it’s not such a good idea for him to have access to a firearm.”  They devise a plan.  “A couple of US take the old man out for dinner while another one of US searches his home for weapons and, if still present, removes them from the residence.  Then, if he gets mad, the worst he can do is throw the TV remote at somebody”

Do not take my word for it.  The Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the largest mental health teaching hospital in Canada, lists contacting the police as the last of four actions one should consider when concerned about a family member.  The first three rely on a relative or friend as an intermediary, someone the person in need of help trusts.  Someone who will talk with the troubled individual in terms of “I” or “WE,” instead of the more judgmental “YOU.”  NOTE:  To ensure their own safety, CAMH recommends relatives or friends read up on mental health care and get training before initiating an intervention with a loved one.

Interventions by a stranger, much less uniformed police officers, are more likely to exacerbate the situation.  We need look no farther than the April 13 shooting of a black teenager Ralph Yarl by 84-year-old Andrew Lester.  Or the death of 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis four days later at the hands of 65-year-old Kevin Monahan.  Their crimes?  In Yarl’s case, mistakenly going to the wrong house to pick up his brother.  Gillis’?  Pulling in and turning around in the wrong driveway.  In this era of “fire first, ask questions later,” law enforcement officers are just as vulnerable as everyone else.

As CAMH suggests, red flag laws still make sense as a last resort.  However, incidents such as the one last Friday in St. Louis are less likely when someone whom a troubled individual knows and trusts takes the lead in deescalating the situation.

For what it’s worth.

One thought on “Red Flag Laws Deserve Their Own Red Flag

  1. The mass killing in Texas today wss reportedly done with an Ak15 rifle. Another killing here in New Jersey was committed with a gun. I am not sure what the weapon was exactly. In that case, the killer, who killed his sister in law whose home he was living in, was known to have mental problems. I have no doubt that the families knew they had guns. As part of the red flag laws there should be training for mental health workers, from Psychologists on down so that families could go in the beginning stages of such situations.

Comments are closed.