The aftermath of every national-news shooting in America produces a standard refrain: People who are anti-gun make strident demands for more regulation, and people who are pro-gun resist such demands.

The former insist we have to “do something” to address mass shootings, and artificially limit the boundaries of that “something” to restrictions on the gun rights of the law-abiding.

Some of the latter often fall into the trap of agreeing to “do something,” hoping that making a gesture, even one that they expect won’t make any positive difference, might satisfy the gun-grabbers and keep them from demanding more or worse infringements. That this is foolhardy is a topic for another day.

Usually, not enough give way in such a manner to get past the gun rights advocates, so nothing actually happens. For us gun rights advocates, “nothing” is better than a useless “something,” because the useless “something” doesn’t gets undone when its uselessness becomes evident, and our rights remain abridged for no good reason.

Of late, however, there is talk of a particular “something” being done to appease the grabbers and show the country that the politicians “care.” This “something” that’s being talked about has been dubbed a “red flag” law.

The idea goes thus: Someone who is perceived to be a potential threat to others, whether it be due to unusual behavior, hot rhetoric, a psychiatric assessment, or what-have-you, would be pre-emptively relieved of guns he may possess and preemptively debarred from purchasing firearms. Details matter, of course, but many feel, generally, that such a law might catch the next mass shooter before he gets a chance to act. And, indeed, there is something to the notion that someone not of sound mind should not have the full suite of rights that everyone else does. After all, we don’t prosecute criminals who are found to be mentally unfit – we institutionalize and treat them.

But, and it’s a very big “but,” such is a response to either a crime or a person who’s been examined at length by mental health professionals. Red flag laws, as being discussed, don’t work that way. Instead, they often include the person whose rights are about to be abridged not even knowing that he’s been reported, and the abridgement would take place without him actually having done anything wrong or illegal.

That this immediately evokes Philip K. Dick’s Precrime and George Orwell’s Thoughtcrime is of little consequence to gun-grabbers, and that’s no surprise. They don’t give a flying rat’s [redacted] about gun rights, and many would be perfectly content if the Second Amendment were repealed and only the government had guns.

That it doesn’t trouble some who are otherwise pro-gun-rights is of greater concern.

A tool usable by the government against citizens’ rights is a tool that will inevitably be misused by the government for selfish/partisan reasons, especially when “good” can be done or when its original scope was insufficient to create a crime-free society (as if such might ever exist). RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, has been broadened and abused for nearly half a century since its 1970 inception. Civil asset forfeiture, originally meant for organized crime and drug cartels, is now a major revenue generator wielded against the poor and weak. Government abuses its power all the time, because government is comprised of people, because people cannot always be relied on to do the right thing, and because many of the people attracted to government service are people who want to impose their will and vision on society, no matter that others may not agree.

It’s not hard to conclude that red flag laws will inevitably be used against people who fall outside the intended “potential/likely mass shooter” target, especially if a high-profile shooting occurs after they’ve been enacted and the shooter didn’t fit a “flaggable” profile.

Consider that some already view the National Rifle Association (NRA) as a problem. The city of San Francisco declared it a terrorist organization, some in the Senate are asserting it acted as a “foreign agent” in the last election, and one Quora knucklehead had the audacity to query whether the executive board of the NRA should be tried for treason and executed (perhaps over an allegation that the NRA acted as a ‘foreign asset’ for Russia during the election).

Given all this, it’s easy to imagine that someone of sufficient willfulness might assert that mere membership in the NRA is a “red flag,” subpoena the membership roster, and add every one of those members, past and present, to the NICS “do not buy” registry that every licensed gun dealer must check prior to selling anyone a gun.

Similarly, given that some claim that an AR-15’s only purpose is mass killing, it’s not inconceivable that past purchase of an AR-15 is made “red flaggable,” and that government agents go through the process of tracing the provenance of every single AR-15 and similar rifle sold in the US (a laborious process, but it’d be a heck of a jobs program). Even if the retail purchaser no longer has the rifle (boating accidents will certainly spike in frequency), the mere act of buying it could get him on the list.

Neither of these possibilities is much of an exaggeration or extrapolation, despite the assurances and dismissals of anti-gun advocates. Already, we see stories of red-flag raids gone wrong, and already, we see that state-level red flag orders being carried out in secret, with no regard for due process or recourse for the accused.

Finally, given the wired, wide-open state of life in the 21st century, where companies make money by building detailed pictures of each of our lives, and where government has ever-increasing interest in social media, does it seem inconceivable that red flag laws might be used to incorporate a social media screening as part of the background check system for purchasing firearms? That someone comes along and creatively interprets the statute and runs algorithms on all of us to determine, in secret, if we should be added to the NICS no-buy list? To many, this sounds like an Orwellian Big-Brother paranoia, but Facebook didn’t become a $500B company simply by offering a place to share cat memes.

Red flag law advocates will promise us that they have no intention of going after law abiding gun owners in this fashion. History tells us we should not believe them. Many prominent politicians have, in unguarded moments, let slip that they see elimination of gun rights as an end goal, and we already know that Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke wants to take all 15 million privately owned AR-15s out of citizens’ hands, no matter that none of those rifles has ever been used improperly.

And, what of the next guy who comes along and gets into a position of authority? When the next madman doesn’t get stopped by the “narrow” original version of this infringement, and Congress opts not to further infringe on the rights of the law-abiding, the existence of this tool in the toolbox may very well prompt an “if you won’t fix this, I will” abuse.

George Carlin offered us this:

I have certain rules I live by. My first rule: I don’t believe anything the government tells me.

It’s a rule that has been amply and obviously validated throughout history, domestic and foreign. It also leads us to an obvious second rule: don’t trust the government not to abuse its power. This is easiest accomplished by not granting the government abusable power in the first place. While red flag laws may seem like a good compromise with the anti-gun-rights crowd, granting power to preemptively infringe our rights to an already over-powerful and over-invasive government courts disaster.

Don’t give up your rights for the illusion of safety. You won’t get the latter, and you’ll have a hell of a time recovering the former.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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