A lot to debate with ‘red flag’ gun seizures

So-called “red flag” laws are being debated both in Congress and state legislatures in attempts to curb mass murders in the United States.

Red flag laws would enable law enforcement authorities to take guns owned by people deemed by the courts to be clear threats to public safety. But the concern voiced by many is whether law-abiding, peaceful citizens might become ensnared in the process.

How would decisions to take a person’s firearms be made? What levels of proof they are threats would be required? Who would make such rulings? How could they be appealed, if at all?

Those are serious, legitimate concerns. Remember, this is a nation on which our concept of justice is simple: innocent until proven guilty.

Feeding the drive for red flag laws are revelations, disturbing in their frequency, that mass murders were known previously to law enforcement agencies — and were deemed to be very real threats.

Last week, it was reported that Seth Ator, the man who killed seven people and wounded 25 others during a shooting spree in Midland and Odessa, Texas, was no stranger to police.

Ator lived in Amarillo, Texas, at one time. His mother called police in 2011, telling them her son had refused to take medication prescribed for a mental-health condition. He had threatened to commit “suicide by cop” by engaging in a shootout with police, she added.

Officers found several causes for concern when they searched the home. One was a recording in which Ator vowed that “911 will bow down before me.”

Amarillo police took Ator to a hospital. Later, he was admitted to a mental health facility. There, he remarked, “The police can’t be everywhere.”

Few people would argue against a method of keeping firearms — and other potential weapons — away from someone like Ator. The issue those pondering red flag laws must address is how to limit seizures to people like him.


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