red flags, fear, & a wee bit of common sense

After the Santa Fe High School mass killing event…wait. Do you remember the Santa Fe mass killing? A year ago, in Texas? May 18, 2018? Ring a bell? Ten killed — eight students and two teachers — and thirteen wounded? Remember now? C’mon, it was the third-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. Comrade Trump said, “we are with you in this tragic hour, and we will be with you forever.” Remember now? No?

Following the Santa Fe High School mass killing.

Okay, these things happen. They’re easy to forget. Anyway, after the Santa Fe shooting Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, created the Texas Safety Commission to look into ways to prevent that sort of tragedy from happening again. The TSC released its report and recommendations last month, two days before the El Paso Walmart massacre. Here’s what Gov. Abbott said at the time:

“In the aftermath of the horrific shooting in Santa Fe, we had discussions just like what we are having today. Those discussions weren’t just for show and for people to go off into the sunset and do nothing. They led to more than 20 laws being signed by me to make sure that the state of Texas was a better, safer place, including our schools for our children.”

Those laws to make Texas ‘a better, safer place’ weren’t common sense laws to increase firearm safety; they were mostly laws that loosened existing restrictions about where Texans could carry guns. There’d been some discussion about including a ‘red flag’ law — a law that allows police or family members to ask a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person considered to be a danger to others or themselves. But in the end, Gov. Abbott and the TSC decided a red flag law would put too many burdens on gun owners.

“I think we need to focus more on memorials before we start the politics.” Texas Gov. Greg Abott

Seventeen states have some sort of red flag law. Although these law are still fairly recent, research suggests red flag laws have, at a minimum, reduced suicide rates. There’s not enough data yet to comment on their effect on murder rates, but red flag laws have been used in at least 20 instances in which people were threatening to commit mass murders. Threatening to commit a mass murder doesn’t mean a person will actually attempt it, but common sense tells us seizing their firearms would certainly make any attempt a lot less likely.

There ARE a few — a very few — valid constitutional concerns about red flag laws. There are due process issues involved when you allow police to seize property from somebody who hasn’t actually committed a crime. But when the crime is murder and the property involved is a tool designed specifically to kill, I think we can allow a few narrow due process exceptions.

Gun rights advocates argue red flag laws give too much weight to the accuser. They fear angry women will use the laws to punish men by having their guns seized. They argue law-abiding gun owners could lose their weapons “because some woman was slighted by a comment taken out of context or jilted by a lover.” Others are afraid the laws would be used by liberals to confiscate the firearms of conservatives. Some even claim red flag laws are, in fact, the first step in a Deep State plan to disarm conservative ‘patriots’.

Most of these folks are idjits.

At the heel of the hunt, it always comes down to this: fear. Politicians fear the money and power of the NRA. They fear losing their status, their power, their ability to shape laws to their own ends. Gun rights advocates are also afraid. White fear of minorities, and fear of becoming a minority themselves. Male fear of women, of being humiliated by women, of not being able to control women. Fear of losing privilege. Fear of losing dominance. It’s all about fear. The ONLY reason for a civilian to carry a firearm is fear. The only reason for a political figures to promote or tolerate looser gun laws is fear.

Folks who don’t own guns are also afraid. Students are afraid they’ll be shot at school. Families are afraid they’ll be shot at church or at the mall. Parents are afraid their kids will be shot. Young adults are afraid they’ll be shot at bars or parties. We’ve actually reached the point where there are survivors of multiple mass shootings. Two brothers who were present during the Gilroy Garlic festival mass shooting had also attended the Las Vegas concert where 58 people were killed. Two other survivors of the Las Vegas massacre were present at the Thousand Oaks mass murder. One of them survived the second mass murder; the other didn’t.

Years ago, Frank Herbert wrote, I must not fear Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I think he was only partially right. Fear IS the mind-killer. But fear can be rational and appropriate; fear can clarify as well as cloud your judgment.

Here’s a true thing: the vast majority of gun nuts (and by ‘gun nuts’ I mean those men who amass a sizable arsenal of firearms) aren’t a threat. Common sense tells us most of these folks aren’t the sort of nuts who’ll use those guns to commit mass murders. We don’t have to be afraid of them. But here’s another true thing: anybody who threatens violence is thinking about committing it, and if a person who threatens violence has weapons, it’s rational to fear he’ll follow through on the threat. It’s common sense to remove those weapons.

Again, it’s all about fear. Their fear and our fear. But it shouldn’t be about whose fear will win. It should be about common sense. Red flag laws are simply the application of common sense to a social danger. Common sense is a fear-killer. We don’t have to let anybody’s fear win.

 

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