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Red-flag laws can make a difference

The slaughter at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, has stunned a country tragically accustomed to mass shootings. Coming just days after the atrocity at Buffalo, New York, this latest outrage has strengthened calls for tighter gun laws. This time, perhaps, something might actually be done.

One approach looks especially promising. So-called red-flag laws — measures that allow police or family members to ask a court to intervene when someone poses a threat to himself or others — are commanding renewed bipartisan support. They aren’t infallible, but nothing could be in a country awash with guns. More than half of mass shooters exhibited clear warning signs before committing their crimes, which makes such laws worthwhile.

Opponents of red-flag laws call them unfair because they lack due process. In truth, they’re no more burdensome than traditional domestic-protection laws, found in all 50 states. No one’s guns are taken away without a judge’s approval. If a temporary seizure is approved, another hearing is convened within weeks to allow the recipient of the order to offer a defense. In turn, the reporting parties must make their case for extending the order.

A more pressing concern is whether such laws really work. They’re now on the books of 19 states, but they’re relatively new, so it’s hard to be sure just yet. Still, the research is encouraging. In Connecticut, which enacted one of the first red-flag laws, a study estimated that one life has been saved for every 10 to 20 protection orders issued.

It’s unclear to what extent the shooter in Uvalde was known to pose a threat before he began his attack. The killer was known to the authorities and had been subject to a mental-health evaluation. Upon release, with no extreme-risk protection order issued, he was able to go out and buy the murder weapon.

Red-flag laws have real potential. Whether red-flag laws are advanced state by state, or by action in the US Congress, the benefits will outweigh the drawbacks. After the horrors of Buffalo and Uvalde, there’s no excuse for failing to act.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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