We don’t say it often, but President Donald Trump is right.
After a pair of mass shootings on the same day — these tragedies are becoming so ordinary that when some reporters called for information about “the massacre” they received the response “which one?” — Trump tweeted his support for a few, limited gun control policies. This initial impulse was the right one, and, from a man not usually known for circumspection, his suggestions were remarkably well targeted.
Trump called for expanding background checks, which those who wouldn’t pass can easily avoid under current loopholes, and the imposition of so-called red-flag laws which allow gun rights to be temporarily suspended by a court when an individual shows behavior that could be a warning sign of imminent violence to themselves or others.
At present, background checks can be avoided at gun shows and through private purchases. It would be quite easy to expand the existing system of checks for gun dealers to those other means of purchase.
An even better means would be the passage of red-flag laws. Some argue that red flag laws deprive U.S. citizens of rights without due process. That’s hogwash.
As the veteran, AR-15-owning lawyer and conservative National Review columnist David French wrote:
“A so-called ‘red flag’ law fills the gaps in criminal law and mental-health adjudications by granting standing to a defined, limited universe of people to seek temporary seizure orders — called gun-violence-restraining orders — for a gun if they can present admissible evidence that the gun’s owner is exhibiting threatening behavior.
“Properly drafted, these laws can save lives while also protecting individual liberty.”
Such laws would be useful not only for stemming the unique tide of mass shootings in America, but also for a much quieter and more pervasive problem: suicide by gun. While mass shootings are visible and tragic, they constitute a tiny fraction of overall gun deaths each year. Suicides, by contrast, compose about two-thirds of gun deaths in most years.
There is a substantial body of research indicating both that people in a mental health crisis with access to guns are more likely to attempt suicide and more likely to complete suicide. In many cases, this may be during transient life events. Removing guns from the picture for a period of time until the mental health crisis has passed could save thousands of lives every year.
A red flag law would require a narrow group of individuals — close family members, teachers, psychiatrists and the like — to come to court with solid evidence that would support the temporary restriction of the right to own a gun. The person whose rights are in question could contest the matter in court, and if the court found against them, they could appeal.
Many recent mass shooters have broadcast extremely troubling warning signs that were visible to those around them. The recent Dayton, Ohio, shooter was expelled from school after teachers found a list of people he said he intended to rape, kill and skin. That was enough to keep him out of school, but not enough to keep him from purchasing a modified AR-15 with a high-capacity magazine.
Trump’s initial impulse on this matter — better background checks and red flag laws — are two of the gun reforms that are best supported by empirical evidence, and they also have minimal impacts on Second Amendment rights. They’re well within the constitutional realm permitted by the D.C. v. Heller ruling, which first established the right to bear arms as a personal right.