Our View: Red flag laws, universal background checks could help curb gun violence

Published 9:38 am Monday, August 12, 2019

After more than 30 people were killed in mass shootings in the U.S. in the past week, the United States has no option but to enact some sort of gun reform legislation to protect from more innocent lives being lost to mass shootings.

A shooting in Dayton, Ohio, Aug. 4, left 10 dead and 26 injured. Another in El Paso, Texas, Aug. 3, left 22 dead and 24 injured others injured shocked the nation. A July shooting in Gilroy, California, left four dead and 13 injured. Those are the more recent and highly publicized mass shootings, but some evidence indicates there have been hundreds more occurrences and hundreds more lives lost to gun violence in 2019.

The nonprofit organization Gun Violence Archive has compiled a list of more than 250 mass shooting incidents in the U.S. this year. The figure counts events in which four or more people were either shot and killed or shot and wounded.

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Amnesty International has issued a travel advisory warning for the U.S., “in the light of ongoing high levels of gun violence in the country.”

The advisory warns travelers to “be extra vigilant at all times and be wary of the ubiquity of firearms among the population; avoid places where large numbers of people gather, especially cultural events, places of worship, schools and shopping malls; exercise increased caution when visiting local bars, nightclubs and casinos.”

“Under international human rights law, the U.S. has an obligation to enact a range of measures at the federal, state and local levels to regulate access to firearms and to protect the rights to the people to live and move about freely without the threat of gun violence,” the advisory states. “The government has not taken sufficient steps to meet this obligation.” 

While still shocking and devastating, the sad reality is Americans have almost come to expect mass shootings, according to a report from Reuters. A poll released Friday by Reuters/Ipsos found 78 percent of Americans polled believe another attack will occur within the next three months, with 49 percent saying it was “highly likely.”

With so many lives lost and the traumatizing effects of such widespread gun violence, the mourning eyes of this nation must turn to our lawmakers and demand some type of effort be made to deter these horrific acts of domestic terrorism.

The question for many Americans is how to take action to prevent widespread gun violence without violating the constitutional rights of other citizens.

Two key pieces of legislation have been proposed in the aftermath of the shootings this month.

Republican lawmakers have proposed federal legislation that would encourage individual states to adopt red flag laws.

Red flag laws would allow courts to issue a protection order to temporarily confiscate firearms from those who are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others by a judge. The request for the order would come from a relative or friend who cites their concerns about a loved one. Concerns could range from discussing suicide or shooting others. Authorities can also request the order.

While Democrats are largely on board with the red flag legislation, most agree the legislation needs to be coupled with universal background checks.

According to the New York Times, “At least 17 states now have approved some version of a red flag law, including Florida, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana and California. Before the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., only five states had such laws.”

There is evidence the mother of the suspect in the El Paso shooting called police concerned about her son and a weapon in his possession weeks before the shooting.

“The mother contacted police because she was worried about her son owning the weapon given his age, maturity level and lack of experience handling such a firearm, attorneys Chris Ayres and R. Jack Ayres said,” according to a report from CNN Thursday.

Could a mass shooting have been prevented had an order been requested and fulfilled in this scenario?

Universal background checks would require almost all firearm transactions in the U.S. to be recorded and logged through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). In most states, private transactions between gun owners can occur without background checks.

Data from places like Colorado, which already has universal background checks, have shown rejections have not risen dramatically, but about 2 percent of sales are denied after universal background checks. That means some guns are being kept out of the hands of potentially dangerous people, but it is not preventing law-abiding, responsible gun owners from having firearms.

Coupling red flag laws and universal background checks could be, at the very least, a starting point for gun law reform. They signal the government is not trying to take everyone’s guns away, but wants to make sure guns are in the hands of responsible gun owners. 

According to the Reuters poll, 69 percent of U.S. adults want “strong” or “moderate” restrictions placed on firearms, but still many remain wary of restrictive gun laws.

We think the restrictions are a small price to pay for the lives that could be saved.

There are many things in the U.S. that are heavily regulated, without trampling on citizens’ constitutional rights.

Take driving for example. We have to get licenses to drive, we have to drive responsibly and cars are required to be built in safe ways that reduce the chance of wrecks and minimize injuries when there are wrecks. None of that has caused cars to disappear.

Regulations for guns built on the same ideas as motor vehicles  — regulations that encourage safe products and responsible use given the risk of injury and death — ought to be embraced by everyone, just as car safety measures have been almost universally.

There are many other examples of things that are regulated in the U.S. to ensure our safety including medications, fireworks and workplace safety.

While the right to bear arms is protected in our Constitution, so is the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those cannot be achieved if we continue to allow gun violence to kill thousands each year and to leave the rest of the nation traumatized.

We understand the average gun owners are not the ones perpetrating mass shootings and acts of what we consider domestic terrorism, but we need to find ways to ensure guns are in the hands of responsible people and are kept from those who are potentially dangerous. 

There are many countries in the world that do not have mass gun violence. In fact, there are many that have almost no gun violence. What can we learn from them?

Despite cries from the public, other officials and even pleas from more than 200 U.S. mayors, including the two who endured mass shootings in their cities last weekend, Senate leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday he would not call the Senate back early to consider new gun legislation.

We join the pleas of hundreds others for Congress to convene in an urgent manner and address this issue of mass shootings and gun violence in our country.

We are tired of seeing lives ended too soon.

We are sick of being afraid.

Action needs to be taken.