TURES COLUMN: The reason for the latest spree shooting: No Red Flag Law

Published 6:56 pm Friday, November 17, 2023

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On Veterans’ Day, I spent the evening with a retired colleague, one who earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. We were at the University of Georgia game in Athens, as the team took on Ole Miss in a top 10 college football matchup. But as impressive as the Bulldogs were, the music of the Redcoat marching band at a special halftime tribute, and the passion of the crowd, matched them. It was moving to hear the marching music of each armed forces service branch.

Most in the crowd would have been outraged to learn that up north, a man had repeatedly threatened soldiers with bodily harm, even vociferously calling for their deaths. And nothing was done about it. Yet that state refused to adopt a red flag law that might have kept deadly guns away from the man making terroristic threats against soldiers and turned away a bid for tougher background checks. Nearly 20 died at a bar and bowling alley after the killer carried out his deadly promises.

The shooter wasn’t some Middle Eastern terrorist. He even served in our armed forces. But something changed in recent years, leading him to punch fellow soldiers, and threaten to shoot up a drill center. He had even been held for two weeks for psychiatric stay at his home base.

But Maine doesn’t have a red flag law. Instead, they have a “yellow flag” law which makes it harder to deny someone a weapon than states with a red flag law. They also have very weak background checks, earning a rating of “F” by a gun safety group. The massacre at Lewistown was further evidence of how Maine’s laws seemed purposely designed to fail.

When asked about the Maine murders, presidential candidate and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis booted the interview. 

He claimed that background checks would have solved the problem (not realizing that Maine has watered-down versions). 

When told firearm-related deaths were on the rise in his state, he blamed COVID-19. 

Then he claimed there wasn’t any evidence that red flag laws worked.

Research of mine, published by Johns Hopkins Press, in a book that came out this month called The Conversation on Guns, shows “The seven states with the lowest rates of firearm deaths for 2020 all had red flag laws. And 14 of the 15 states with the highest rates of firearm deaths that year did not have a red flag law. The exception was New Mexico, where a red flag law took effect halfway through the year. 

On average, states with red flag laws in 2019 and 2020 had significantly lower firearm death rates than states without them.” 

The next night, I visited another former colleague; he lost his son at the shooting at Virginia Tech. It would be the last night I saw my friend alive. What happened to his son was another case where a red flag law could have made a difference, saving so many lives. In fact, I found that such laws would have saved thousands of lives, perhaps more if they lasted longer than a year. 

And sometimes, with people’s conditions, only one year isn’t enough to make it harder for a dangerous person to get an instrument of death. It seems like a better solution than banning guns everywhere, or having politicians undermine gun laws, making it easier for massacres.