More States Should Raise the Red Flag on Guns

(Bloomberg View) -- Some people are simply too dangerous to have access to firearms. It’s an axiom that common sense and research both confirm, and it’s increasingly being codified into law -- in states, if not in Washington.

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo signed an executive order this week to make her state the nation’s sixth with a “red flag” policy. The spread of such policies -- California, Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon and Washington have some version -- is a crucial advance in the fight against gun violence.

In California, police or family members can seek a gun violence restraining order prohibiting the named person from purchasing a gun or ammunition. In Rhode Island, the governor’s order directs law enforcement authorities to identify individuals making violent threats or engaging in violent behavior and to “take all available legal steps” to restrict their access to firearms.

Such policies attempt to address the shortcomings of federal prohibitions, which deny access to guns for felons, those convicted of domestic violence and anyone who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution.”

These restrictions posed no deterrent to the alleged killer of students and teachers this month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Nikolas Cruz was the subject of dozens of calls to 911. In January, a woman who knew Cruz phoned in a tip to authorities, saying, “I know he’s going to explode.”

Unfortunately, even when it’s easy for people to spot signs of impending violence, it’s hard to know what to do about it. Even in the few states with red-flag laws, family members and police are often unaware of them.

So states need to do a better job of informing the public how these laws work. It’s also important that those who have firearms taken away have the right to a full hearing to contest an order.

Proponents of such laws can cite more than just common sense in support of them: Academic research has shown that the mere presence of a gun can make people more aggressive -- a gun in a car, for example, can make motorists more prone to road rage. Consequently, it makes sense to restrict access to firearms by people who are dangerously aggressive or reckless to begin with.

Red-flag laws also represent an important milestone in the debate on regulating guns in part because they engage the community itself in the fight against gun violence. Families and law enforcement often know who is too dangerous -- to themselves or others -- to possess a gun. Red-flag laws enable the government to use that knowledge to keep communities safe.

--Editors: Francis Wilkinson, Michael Newman.

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©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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