Red flag laws, which 19 states and the District of Columbia have enacted, are commonly touted as a way to stop mass shootings. But that is far from their main use. While [California Assemblymember Phil] Ting’s tally does not include information on the motivation for GVROs, data from other states indicate that a large majority of gun confiscation orders are aimed at preventing suicide, not homicide. And even when petitioners allege that someone is a danger to others, the risk of a mass shooting is bound to be infinitesimal, since such crimes account for a tiny share of gun homicides and an even tinier share of unlawful firearm use.
The focus on mass shootings is therefore highly misleading in assessing the costs and benefits of red flag laws. A more relevant question is what percentage of people subject to gun confiscation orders actually would have used a firearm to kill themselves or others. Given the weak due process protections that are typical of red flag laws, that percentage is probably pretty small.
Data from Florida and Maryland indicate that judges nearly always grant ex parte orders. In Florida, judges issue final orders about 95 percent of the time. I have not seen comparable data for California, but its “significant danger” standard is amorphous enough to allow post-hearing orders in almost every case.
Although there is no solid evidence that red flag laws have an impact on homicide rates, a few studies suggest they may prevent suicides. But even those estimates indicate that the vast majority of people disarmed by these laws—90 to 95 percent—were not actually suicidal, or at least not suicidal enough to complete the act.
If you attach no value to the constitutional rights that people lose for the duration of a red flag order, those odds may not bother you. But if you think something important is lost when the government deprives someone of the fundamental right to armed self-defense, your assessment is apt to be different.
— Jacob Sullum in Why Didn’t California’s ‘Red Flag’ Law Stop the San Jose Shooter?