There are some very disturbed people in this world. Two showed themselves recently in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, where they killed 31 people total. Nine in 30 seconds in Dayton.
Those aren’t the only disturbed minds. A day after El Paso, a man made a telephone threat of a mass killing against a Florida Walmart. A few days later, a man showed up at a Walmart in Missouri with a loaded rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition. Can’t anything be done?
You already know the script. Thoughts and prayers are voiced. Demands for bans on assault weapons are made. Opinions are rendered that this time may be different. Bills are even introduced. Objections are raised that proposed solutions won’t solve all gun violence, thus doing nothing is the best course. Political leaders slow walk until supportive outcries dissipate. And then nothing changes.
In West Virginia, we’ve taken it one step further. Delegates Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, and John Doyle, D-Jefferson, announced last week that they are working on a state “red flag” law.
Within 24 hours, 26 Republicans issued a statement of opposition. Delegate Sharon Malcolm was the sole Kanawha County legislator to sign. Other opposing legislators in our area included Joe Jeffries of Putnam County, Tom Fast and Kayla Kessinger of Fayette County, and Zack Maynard of Lincoln County. Again, no bill had been introduced, so details weren’t available. They were just opposed.
In general, these laws, which go by various names, permit police or family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from someone who might present a danger to others or themselves. A judge makes a temporary determination. After that period, the weapons are returned unless another court hearing extends the removal.
However, the experiences of states adopting such laws has been mixed. According to a report in The Washington Post, of the 17 states and District of Columbia that have adopted such laws, hundreds of firearms are now removed annually from people who have threatened suicide or murder.
But some jurisdictions have been underwhelmed with results. Washington, D.C., has not seen a single request since the law took effect at the beginning of 2019. California saw very little demand for two years after its 2016 enactment.
Conversely, in the 10 months since Maryland’s law took effect, 788 petitions were received, resulting in 400 confiscations.
What’s the difference? Much depends on the different laws’ details. The Montgomery County (Rockville), Maryland, sheriff reported that an intensive effort to train police officers and sheriff’s deputies was another ingredient in their law’s usage.
Most interesting to me was that many petitions that have been received involved people at risk of suicide. A 2018 study showed a 13.7 percent drop in the gun suicide rate in Connecticut and a 7.5 percent reduction in Indiana after enactment of their laws.
West Virginia’s 2018 overall suicide rate was 19 per 100,000 residents, compared to 14 per 100,000 for the United States. Among males, West Virginia was 30.2 while all males in the U.S. came in 22.2. With a 2018 population of 1.806 million, that’s 343 suicides overall.
So, why would anyone want to oppose red flag laws? The usual objection is that the law doesn’t prevent all gun violence, so we should do nothing. Hmmm. If there was a cure for some cancer, but not all, would we not adopt it?
Others complain the law could bypass due process. And it could. But that’s what the collaborative legislative process is about — to work out details so the law avoids such problems.
Of course, 26 Republican legislators won’t consider the law and issued a news release to tell us so. That’s political grandstanding.
On the flip side, for our Democrat friends to issue their news release, instead of writing the law and working for bipartisan support, is political grandstanding, as well.
Cue the usual script.