Lately a lot of attention has been given to red flag laws to prevent mass shootings. Essentially, a bipartisan proposal would tie federal grant money to states who impose laws which allow them to remove firearms from individuals deemed to display violent behavior. Some states already have similar laws on the books. Regardless of how you feel about red flag laws though, there is one glaring problem that has not been addressed. How do we know the qualities that deem an individual to display violent behavior?
That is the question the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) is attempting to answer. Unfortunately, they are grossly underfunded and given a very narrow mandate.
To honor the anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, Senator Chuck Grassley introduced the EAGLES Act to expand the authority of the NTAC to study behavioral attitudes which cause violent crime and provide law enforcement and community leaders with the tools and training to identify at-risk individuals who could turn violent. Congress has not acted on this legislation.
Instead, Congress is considering the red flag laws. Without data and research on what red flags are and without training for community leaders on how to identify those red flags, this legislation could become a dangerous way to remove the rights of law abiding gun owners and individuals with mental health issues.
Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has said these laws will “bridge this issue of the guns and the mental health issue.”
Unfortunately, the link between mental illness and gun violence is not as black and white as presented.
The American Psychiatric Association has found that individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims of gun crimes than perpetrators. While some forms of mental illness can make an individual violent, these are rare occurrences.
Without adequate research on what triggers a person to become violent, these laws risk furthering the stigma that individuals with mental illness are inherently dangerous. In fact, it encourages those with mental illness to be feared and reported rather than assisted and supported. This discourages treatment and can push more people over the edge, rather than less.
Furthermore, Senator Linday Graham (R-SC), who plans to introduce the measure, has noted that the laws will need to maintain a “robust due process and judicial review” system; however, this is fundamentally flawed. A judge does not necessarily have training in mental healthcare. In fact, a judge is hardly qualified to determine if a person is truly a risk.
Only a licensed mental health professional should have the authority to determine if an individual’s mental state puts them at a danger to themselves or others.
The Second Amendment does not come with exceptions and simply having a mental illness should not be one. No one wants violent individuals to have access to firearms, but what determines a “violent individual” should be determined based on facts and data, not stigma.