Tennessee’s proposed red flag law is bad gun policy

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  • Matthew Larosiere is the director of legal policy for the Firearms Policy Coalition and a senior contributor to Young Voices.

Red Flag laws have many names. “Extreme Hazards Protection Orders”, “Gun Violence Restriction Orders” and so on. Although they caused a sensation in mid-2019, these laws have been around in one form or another since 1999. It was a bad idea then and still is.

And the one pending before the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee is among the worst.

Introduced in late January, SB 1807 / HB 1873 is another in a series of laws designed to victimize normal people in the name of public safety. Generally speaking, red flag laws allow a certain class of people to ask the government to seize the weapons of an individual they deem dangerous. These laws allow individuals to deprive those who have committed no crime of their property and their ability to defend themselves without due legal process.

Protesters of the Extreme Risk Firearms Protection Bill gather outside the New Mexico Capitol in Santa Fe on Friday, January 31, 2020.

A distorted view of the due process

Due process, the cornerstone of our constitutional system, is why the government must first give you notice and give you the opportunity to present your case, before taking away your liberty or your property. Most of these laws, however, reflect a distorted view of due process adopted by President Donald Trump in 2018 when he joked: “Take up arms first, then go through due process.”

The problem here is the first word of due process: Legal process is due before the government takes someone’s life, liberty, or property, not after.

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This concern is exacerbated by the fact that most of these laws, including SB 1807, encourage courts to immediately grant a red flag order ex parte, i.e. without even the subject matter. This means that the subject commits a serious crime while keeping his firearms, even if he had no idea of ​​the order.

Laws do not improve access to mental health care

Matt Larosiere

Although confused with mental health reform, red flag laws do not improve access to mental health care or address the important issues of untreated or undertreated mental illness. Indeed, SB 1807 can even deter those who might otherwise seek mental health treatment or counseling. Would someone with intrusive thoughts be more or less likely to share them with someone who could help them if they felt it might deprive their rights?

Red flag laws vary as to who can file a petition, but SB1807 is quite broad. In addition to members of the police, household and family, the SB 1807 allows anyone who has ever had a romantic or sexual relationship with someone to go to court, with virtually no risk of consequence for a spurious claim or fraudulent. This creates a huge problem, allowing reluctant former partners to use the state as an instrument of malice.

Should we seize the firearms of those who pose threats? More states say yes to red flag laws

What’s worse is that these laws, especially SB1807, will disproportionately harm the poor. Members of disadvantaged communities are the most likely to be victims of violence and the most likely to be abused by our failing criminal justice system. The laws of the red flag do not exist in a world separate from this reality. This means that a person who has done nothing wrong – and who really needs an effective means of self-defense – may have the relatively expensive firearm they depend on for their safety taken away, and they must bear the cost and complexity of trying to get it back.

The red flag laws are no solution to anything. The Tennessee legislature should focus on improving the lives of Tennessee by respecting their rights, not on making a new class of victims.

Matthew Larosiere is the director of legal policy for the Firearms Policy Coalition and a senior contributor to Young Voices. He can be found on Twitter @MattLaAtLaw.


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