“It’s not the gun that pulls the trigger, it’s the person,” the president explained at a recent campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, discussing the importance of the civil commitment process.
After the tragedies at places like Parkland, Las Vegas and Dayton, many of us find ourselves saying, “There ought to be a law that keeps guns away from the crazy people.” What if I told you there already is one?
Laws already exist to detain and institutionalize people whom the courts have determined, after proper psychiatric examination and diagnosis, are a danger to themselves or others. The laws lay out a process for making that determination. It’s called “civil commitment.”
Nobody wants dangerous felons or unstable mental patients to have firearms. We can also probably agree that someone too dangerous to have a gun probably shouldn’t be walking our streets.
Before the 1960s, the civil commitment process was widely used and, unfortunately sometimes abused, with hundreds of thousands of people landing in psychiatric hospitals, some for years. Reforms scaled back the number and length of such commitments, and many such hospitals closed. Now most psychiatric patients receive a prescription, short-term care or out-patient counseling, and a short cab ride back to their community. Many become homeless or otherwise a menace to society in various ways including by committing random acts of violence.
People who have been determined to be mentally ill are already covered by a myriad of laws that prevent them from legally buying a firearm.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives requires anyone who purchases a firearm from a licensed gun dealer to fill out a Firearms Transaction Record, or Form 4473. Form 4473 says that “any person who has been ‘adjudicated as a mental defective’ or ‘committed to a mental institution’ is prohibited under Federal law from shipping, transporting, receiving, or possessing any firearm or ammunition.” This provision alone should give authorities plenty of ability to block the crazies from getting guns.
There is also an existing civil court process whereby individuals who are a danger to themselves or others lose their firearms and can be taken off the streets entirely before they hurt someone. These folks would (and should) be put into the mental health system and, as a result, will be disqualified from legal gun ownership under current laws.
So why are the anti-gunners so vociferously advocating for yet another legal weapon in their arsenal to ostensibly separate the mentally ill from firearms?
What’s the point of these so-called “red flag laws,” which are apparently designed to take firearms away from the strange, the creepy, the abnormal, or those accused of being dangerous, while leaving those same mentally ill individuals in their homes and on our streets to potentially commit violence against themselves or others?
The answer is simple. Red flag laws are designed not so much to stop violent crimes or to even help the mentally ill, but to disarm ordinary, law-abiding Americans. Red flag laws shortcut the judicial (and constitutional) process by allowing authorities to seize people’s guns now and worry about the rest of that messy mentally ill stuff later.
The gun grabbers are skilled at seizing on public sentiments to advance their broader anti-gun agenda. Do we really want to live in a society that resembles some former authoritarian regimes where neighbors are encouraged to spy on each other and report back to the authorities? Are we quickly moving toward a day where heavily armed police officers will barge through an unsuspecting citizen’s home at any hour and engage them with force for the purpose of removing their firearms?
If the politicians are really concerned about the dangers of having crazy people walking our streets with firearms, then they should enforce and follow the existing legal protections in place to civilly commit those among us who are truly too violent and mentally unstable to be on our streets.
If their real goal is to give legions of anti-gun advocates a nationwide script that will permit them to harass and take away firearms from law-abiding individuals with impunity, then the red flag laws are a powerful new tool for the enemies of American liberty.
Red flag laws have nothing to do with protecting society from those with mental illnesses and a proclivity for violence, and everything to do with demonizing guns and harassing and disarming law-abiding gun owners.
Civil commitment is the answer to gun violence — not red flag laws.
Mark W. Smith is a bestselling author, an attorney and a senior fellow of law and public policy at the King’s College in New York City. His next book, “First They Came for the Gun Owners,” is due in stores in October 2019.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.