House Passes Red Flag Law Bill, Sure Would Be Great If Senate Could Do The Same!
In every state in the union, if someone is deemed to be a threat to themselves or to others, they can be placed in a hospital for a period of time (usually 72 hours) for an emergency evaluation, or in rare circumstances, subject to involuntary inpatient civil commitment. Granted, it's not too easy to get people this treatment, as most states have fewer than 1,000 public psychiatric beds available and many have less than 500, which is likely why in every state but Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Tennessee, that person can also be subject to involuntary outpatient treatment. It can also be financially ruinous for those who are evaluated or committed, because even if the treatment is involuntary, they are still required to pay for the privilege, because America.
But what can't be done in 21 states, including Texas, is take away their damn guns. This means that, hypothetically, someone can be involuntarily held for 72 hours, be deemed enough of a threat to require involuntary outpatient mental health care, be billed for that hold and that care, but still be allowed to keep a whole ass arsenal in their homes.
On Thursday, the House voted to change that. A little bit. On a mostly party-line vote, 224-202, they passed a bill which would allow a federal judge to issue an order to have guns temporarily removed from a person deemed a threat to themselves or others for up to two weeks until a hearing can be held to determine whether they should be returned to that person or kept for a certain amount of time. It would also create an "incentive" for states to institute their own red flag laws.
This could, quite generously, be described as the absolute bare minimum in gun control. It's the basic plan, where for the least amount of time, money, and effort, one can potentially keep those most likely to go on a killing spree from having the means to do so.
Yet, with the exception of Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, Chris Jacobs of New York, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, and Fred Upton of Michigan, House Republicans fully rejected it.
According to Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, this is because “It would allows [sic] the courts to take guns away from people without notice and without even the right to appear in the hearing to defend themselves in court.”
Sure. Just like we can put people in involuntary psychiatric holds without notice and require them to pay for that treatment. One would imagine that if someone truly felt their life would be endangered if they were without a gun for two whole weeks, they could just rent a bodyguard for that period of time. It cost Britney Spears $60K a month to be held against her will in a mental health facility, and one would imagine a bodyguard would cost far less than that.
It should also be noted that were someone to be involuntarily committed, they would not be able to bring their AR-15s to the facility with them. Except maybe in Texas.
Sources differ on whether or not the Senate will now pass the bill. The AP says it's "unlikely," but the Washington Post reports that the bill's negotiators are somewhat optimistic about the prospect of getting federal support for states that have red flag laws, though not so much about a national red flag law.
It's also reportedly unlikely that the Senate will pass any of the other extremely gentle gun control bills passed by the House this week, including one that would raise the legal age to purchase semi-automatic weapons to 21 and prohibit the sale of high capacity ammunition magazines. So far, the only thing the Republicans seem likely to go for are measures to include juvenile records in background checks, and spending some money on mental health and school security. As a poll found this week, 4-in-10 Republicans consider mass shootings a reasonable price to pay to preserve their right to own semi-automatic weapons and for those weapons to not be taken away just because they have been deemed a threat to themselves or others, so that is not terrifically shocking.
It should be noted that there are many situations in which a person is a "threat to themselves or to others" without being mentally ill — and that in most situations, people with mental illnesses are neither of those things and are in fact more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators. There is, however, currently no federal law preventing those with protective orders against them related to domestic violence (if the parties are not married) or stalking from possessing a gun — and only a few states prohibit those with stalking convictions from having a gun. So even when we know someone is a threat to another person, enough to warrant an order of protection or restraining order (which is extremely difficult to get, mind you), that person can still have a gun.
According to the Giffords Law Center, "states with laws which cover emergency protective orders in addition to final protective orders experience a 16% reduction in intimate partner gun homicides." Lord knows we don't care all that much about women in this country, but if people are worried about mass shootings, it's worth considering that a common precursor to these killings is violence and threatening behavior towards women.
It would be really lovely if the Senate could surprise us and actually do something that would legitimately make people less likely to get murdered instead of just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic hoping this will all blow over soon.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse