‘Red flag’ laws posing constitutional concerns

So-called “red flag” laws have been suggested by some as at least a partial answer to keeping firearms away from those who might use them to harm themselves or others. But experiences in Florida, which has had such a statute for nearly three years, indicate a variety of concerns about them.

“Red flag” laws make it easier for law enforcement agencies to take guns away from people who have demonstrated potentially violent mental instability. Judges have to approve law enforcement request for such seizures.

One consideration is the number of times Florida law enforcement agencies have used the law: more than 3,500 during about two years. Common sense would indicate that many of those from whom firearms were taken would not have used them against themselves or others.

Some critics want the law rescinded or amended. One quoted by the Associated Press, attorney Kendra Parris, says the new statute is not needed. Tools already in the law books, such as those involving breach of the peace, permit police and sheriff’s deputies to take guns from those who may be dangerous, she said.

One constitutional concern is that because Florida’s “red flag” law does not involve a criminal charge, those whose firearms are seized are not entitled to state-provided attorneys if they cannot afford them. That is discrimination against lower-income people, critics say.

About 18 states have “red flag” laws. Officials in those with the statutes may want to take fresh looks at them — and those where they are being considered should study how they have worked elsewhere. Fundamentally, a “red flag” law says someone is guilty and should have their weapon confiscated before they have committed any crime. That reverses what has been the basic American view of justice.