Our editorial: Red flag laws may work, with due process

The Detroit News

Two words must stay top of mind as Gov. Rick Snyder and lawmakers consider legislation that would allow police officers to seize the guns of individuals they suspect are a danger to themselves and others: Due process.

The governor said this week he is considering asking the Legislature for a “red flag” law to temporarily separate unstable individuals from their guns. Five other states have such laws, and several more are considering adopting them in response to the slaughter of 17 children in a Valentine’s Day school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Congress will also be weighing a measure offered by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Red flag laws are worthy of consideration, and might have kept the Florida shooter from carrying out his assault on his former classmates. Police had been in contact with Nikolas Cruz, 19, dozens of times before his shooting spree due to complaints about his erratic and violent behavior. And they knew he had a gun.

But under the law, they were powerless to remove that weapon from his home.

A Red Flag law would give officers the authority to intervene, with a warrant from a court. That piece is essential.

Individuals should not be deprived of their constitutional rights based solely on a determination by a cop that he or she is incapable of responsibly exercising them. The case for a warrant must be made to a judge before any action is taken.

If Michigan moves such a law, the temporary nature of the gun seizure also should be clearly defined. Whether the period is three days or three weeks should be specifically spelled out in the bill. During that time, an evidentiary hearing must be held to determine whether the confiscation is justified. Periodic reassessments of the order the must be mandatory.

The law should take steps beyond simply the removal of the guns. If a someone is considered too violent or troubled to have easy access to guns, that determination should set in motion other steps to get that person all necessary assistance.

Mental health services must be offered, and a treatment plan put in place. Simply removing the guns will not defuse the danger. As we’ve seen, a disturbed individual can turn to all sorts of alternatives to wreak mayhem, from knives to rental trucks.

Building in the treatment element should soothe lawmakers who insist combatting gun violence is about mental health, rather than gun control.

Red flag laws, with strong due process built in, do not threaten the Second Amendment. In fact, gun rights advocates should be among the loudest voices of support. Keeping people from abusing guns is the best way to protect the right to bear arms.

Lots of ideas for dealing with gun violence are floated every time there is a mass shooting. The majority would have little impact on actually curbing such incidents.

Red flags do hold that promise, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle should work with the governor to come up with a bill suitable for Michigan, and one that does minimal damage to due process rights.