The seizure of several firearms from a Redmond, Washington man by local police on a “red flag” order has raised one big question that seems always to linger in the shadows and weeds: if someone is considered so dangerous to themselves or others they must be disarmed, why are they left free after their guns are confiscated?
The Seattle Times reported that the 23-year-old man was not being charged, which CFL confirmed with a Redmond Police Department spokesperson. The police are stuck with a law that, on the one hand is supposed to be a tool to prevent a tragedy, but on the other hand might be used to deny someone’s rights under color of law.
By taking someone’s firearms when no crime has been committed, police agencies are criticized. If they don’t take someone’s firearms, who later commits a terrible crime, the police who could have acted but didn’t are in for the same condemnation; the old “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” dilemma.
But therein lies the proverbial “rub” with opponents and skeptics of “red flag” laws, who have taken to social media in the wake of this incident. Someone’s firearms are seized by a court order that might be filed by family members, police, even a co-worker or neighbor in some jurisdictions, depending upon how a law is written, and only afterward can the affected person get a hearing. Critics say that is tantamount to being considered guilty until one proves his or her innocence. Meanwhile, their Second Amendment rights are on hold and their property is in the hands of strangers who may, or may not, be skilled with firearms.
The person in this Redmond case posted images of himself with a couple of AK47-type rifles with the provocative caption “One ticket for the joker, please.” It was a reference to the new film about The Joker, a character from the “Batman” series. He also had posted messages on social media that talked about stalking or abusing women, which he allegedly claimed were done in jest.
There’s a lesson in this for other gun owners: Be careful what you say on social media.
But it is something said in the police petition for the Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) that raises a red flag of its own. The police recognize that the man will have a court hearing in a few days, so the detective handling this case is asking the court to issue the ERPO for one year “because the respondent poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to self or others” by having access to firearms.
The person in question has never been arrested for or convicted of a domestic violence crime or felony crime, or a hate crime, according to the petition. But the petition expresses a “reasonable fear” of future dangerous acts.
The question remains; is it legal to penalize someone for a crime that has not been committed? This dilemma moves into the fictional-becoming-factual world of “Minority Report,” the Tom Cruise film from 2002 based on the 1956 short story that deals with a police agency whose task is to arrest criminals before they commit crimes, based on psychic predictions.
At what point does this effort to prevent a possible tragedy collide with the Bill of Rights, specifically the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth amendments?
Former Judge Andrew Napolitano, the senior judicial analyst at Fox News, penned a critique of red flag laws two months ago that said gun confiscation under red flag laws is unconstitutional. While others may disagree, Napolitano raised some significant issues upon which ERPO critics quickly seized.
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Possibly sooner than later, enforcement of a “red flag” law is going to wind up in court, perhaps even the U.S. Supreme Court, at which time ERPO proponents may have to explain how taking someone’s property before they’ve committed a crime, and then leaving those persons free to possibly commit a heinous, violent act with some other weapon—more people are stabbed or bludgeoned to death in any given year than are murdered with rifles or shotguns of any kind, according to FBI data—that requires no background check or waiting period to legally purchase. The carving knife one uses on Thanksgiving could become the murder weapon at a January crime scene. The wood or metal baseball bat purchased for spring training might put someone in the morgue in October.
That brings the discussion right back to its starting point. If someone is considered to be such a possible danger to themselves or others that their guns are confiscated prior to a hearing or even a crime taking place, why does that person remain free.
You are essentially putting the gun in jail to prevent a crime it could not possibly commit.
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