Those of us who support the Second Amendment and the right to keep and bear arms have always been disturbed by gun violence restraining orders, or so-called red flag laws. Ever since California put the first one in place, allowing due process-free confiscation of an individual’s guns based on the suspicions of others, we’ve opposed them in their current form.
But now it turns out some of our friends on the anti-gun left have a problem with them, too. Oh, they’re fine with grabbing someone’s (anyone’s?) guns based on nothing more than the word of a relative or co-worker, in some cases. What they’re having trouble with is the insensitive term “red flag.”
Our latest blog.
It’s Time to Retire the Term #RedFlag Laws
The catchy nickname stigmatizes individuals with mental health disabilities and mischaracterizes the way these evidence-based laws operate.#ERPO#ERPOsaveslives#RedFlagLawsSaveLiveshttps://t.co/VqDT9xzjEl
— CSGV (@CSGV) March 26, 2019
It seems some are finding the term, well, problematic. Civilian Disarmament Industrial Complex made man Josh Horwitz (executive director of the CSGV) has penned a post for Medium describing the stigmatizing nature of calling these confiscation statutes “red flag” laws.
Over time — especially after many conversations with our allies in the mental health community — it has become clear that the term “red flag law” is not just a memorable, innocuous nickname. It is a term that has the potential to alienate marginalized groups. And by mischaracterizing the way these laws operate, “red flag” is a term that jeopardizes the policy’s impact.
These problems stem from the vague nature of the name “red flag.” Because the term is so indefinite in meaning, it is easy to corrupt. It is easy to mischaracterize the policy’s mechanisms and purpose — whether intentionally or unintentionally.
Mischaracterize their purpose? Not really. Their purpose is quite clear, really.
In most jurisdictions with red flag laws, just about anyone related to or knowing an individual can can drop a dime on a gun owner — out or genuine concern or malicious mischief — and get a court order issued to confiscate their guns. The gun owner usually won’t even know the order has been issued until he or she gets a knock on the door asking for their firearms.
But that isn’t the part that’s triggering Horwitz now that he’s become sufficiently woke to the term’s potential meaning.
For instance, citizens and legislators may believe the term “red flag” encompasses or refers to mental health disabilities. This association, which is often rooted in implicit bias, furthers the incorrect stereotype that mental illness is a significant risk factor for interpersonal violence. By facilitating this association, the term “red flag” stigmatizes those with mental health disabilities and misrepresents extreme risk laws, which were specifically crafted to assess risk without unfairly stigmatizing those living with mental health disabilities.
So it’s really all about bias and unfairly stigmatizing those with mental health problems?
“When we say ‘red flag laws,’ we reinforce existing prejudice against people with mental health disabilities,” says Julia Bascom, Executive Director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “It’s a phrase that brings to mind ‘dangerous people’ and other blurry categories. Who is dangerous? Who is a red flag? Our society already thinks of people with mental health disabilities as scary and dangerous — we too quickly make the leap from concerning behaviors to stigmatizing anyone with a certain label. Vague terms like ‘red flag laws’ make that leap even easier.”
My friend @JoshuaMHorwitz continues to demonstrate his allyship to the #disability community talking about the dangers of using the term “red flag laws”. He’s brought us to so many tables that previously were unwelcoming. You rock, my friend. https://t.co/RMUp743aE4
— Rebecca Cokley (@RebeccaCokley) March 26, 2019
OK, but that’s not Horwitz’s biggest worry. He’s also very concerned about how the gun right community may use the term.
As the National Rifle Association (NRA) and their allies consistently use mental illness as a scapegoat for gun violence, the term “red flag laws” gives the gun lobby yet another opportunity to change the subject from guns to mental illness — and convince the public that people living with mental illness are the real problem. …
“Instead of making that easier for (the NRA), it’s critical that we are explicit and deliberate with our language from the outset and keep the focus of the conversation where we want it — on the evidence, the real risks, and the solutions,” says Bascom.
Besides, calling them “red flag” laws doesn’t present a clear picture of what these confiscation-enabling statues are really all about.
Indeed, the term “red flag” does not describe the real risk-based, data-driven approach that extreme risk laws utilize. Instead, “red flag” suggests a subjective, arbitrary process based on intuition or a “gut feeling” rather than evidence. The gun lobby relishes using the term “red flag law” for this reason and has already seized upon and perpetuated this misconception, suggesting that extreme risk laws could be used to seek revenge on an individual even in the absence of evidence to suggest that the person poses a danger to self or others.
Because that could never happen. Who could possibly conceive of bad break-up or nasty divorce resulting in an ex calling in a bogus threat from their former significant other to exact a measure of revenge?
Or something like this perhaps:
As Horwitz makes clear, for the preservation of the civilian disarmament movement, it’s time to retire this antiquated, bigoted, micro-aggressive term.
For the inclusivity of the gun violence prevention movement, for the future success of extreme risk laws, for our commitment to truth and accuracy, it is time to retire the term “red flag laws.”
Sure, “gun violence restraining order” is a much bigger mouthful, but if you really care about taking guns away from
average Americans dangerous individuals, you’ll reeducate yourself. Do it for the children.