Last week, House Democrats advanced their bill to encourage states to adopt “red flag” laws for removing guns and ammunition from dangerous persons. But in the process, Democrats rejected a Republican-proposed amendment that would have red-flagged individuals identified by law enforcement as gang members.
The Democrats’ reasoning was that law enforcement lists of gang members may have errors in them. As the Washington Examiner notes, similar logic has been behind Republican objections to using the terrorism no-fly list for denying weapons purchases from licensed dealers.
Democrats in fact were in favor of a “no fly, no buy” policy for flagging gun-purchase applicants. When the list was about links to terrorism, they weren’t worried about a few errors here and there. It was Republicans who were concerned at the time about the likelihood of erroneous placement on the no-fly list.
There’s a difference between the no-fly list and law enforcement identification of gang members, however. The law enforcement lists are based on the stringent standard of probable cause for indictment in gang-involved crimes. Moreover, the GOP amendment to the Democrats’ current “red flag” bill specified that individuals identified as gang members could only be red-flagged, for gun possession purposes, if they were indictable under a probable cause standard.
The no-fly list is not based on probable cause related to specific crimes, but on circumstantial evidence linking listed persons to terror networks.
The Washington Examiner recounts the flavor of some of the gang-list dialogue in the House:
Democrats kept objecting, arguing someone could be misidentified as gang members simply for writing “13” on a piece of paper and having it wrongly identified as an MS-13 gang sign.
“Maybe you are just doodling because it is the 13th of June,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York said.
Ultimately, the red-flag bill was advanced by the Democrats without the Republican amendment.
That makes an interesting contrast with the Obama-era practice of automatically flagging certain people in the NICS database – the database checked for red flags when a gun-buyer applies with a licensed dealer – who have never committed a crime or been anywhere near gangs or terrorism. The people in question were veterans and Social Security beneficiaries who had named “representative payees” to handle their federal benefits on their behalf.
Such people were being automatically considered “mentally unfit” for firearm ownership, even though that didn’t meet the intent laid out in written law. Senate Republicans wanted answers from the Obama administration at the time, but came up empty:
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to then-Attorney General Eric Holder in 2015, asking why an alarming number of veterans were being referred to NICS as ineligible to purchase a firearm.
“Once the VA determines that a veteran requires a fiduciary to administer benefit payments, the VA reports that veteran to the gun ban list, consequently denying his or her right to possess and own firearms,” Grassley wrote. “The VA’s regulation appears to omit important findings and never reaches the question of whether a veteran is a danger to himself, herself, or others. Thus, a VA determination that a veteran is ‘incompetent’ to manage finances is insufficient to conclude that the veteran is ‘mentally defective’ under the ATF’s standard that is codified in federal law.”
Unlike the gang-list proposal of the House Republicans, this practice bypassed the definitions prescribed by statutory law and arbitrarily equated one regulatory category, improperly, with another.
Trump ended the practice in 2018 – whereupon, as Katie Pavlich notes, Democrats and the media claimed, falsely, that Trump was letting mentally ill people buy guns.
This is the character of the Democrats’ “debate” over gun rights. They are anxious to have red-flag laws, and any other regulatory avenues by which law-abiding people can be denied firearms.
But they’re worried that police-identified gang members might be erroneously denied their gun rights.
Washington Examiner’s reporters quote Colorado Republican Ken Buck:
“The majority of violent crime, including gun violence, in the United States is linked to gangs,” Rep. Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican who sponsored the amendment, said Wednesday.
Law enforcement should at all times strive to be as accurate as possible, and there are reasonable arguments that no one other than convicted violent felons should be automatically red-flagged. But few Americans would agree with the Democrats’ effective position here: that police-identified gang members should be at the head of the line for the benefit of the doubt, as regards firearm eligibility.
This situation isn’t too surprising, of course. The Left’s general attitude toward guns tends to be emotional and partisan, rather than logical and based in rule-of-law standards. Actress Alyssa Milano was in the news last week when she met with Ted Cruz on gun policy, which prompted a number of gun-rights observers to highlight the following facts. Milano (a) is a big fan of red-flag laws and keeping guns out of the hands of more people; (b) owns two guns, which she keeps for self-defense; and (c) has self-admitted mental illness.
Apparently, she’s the type of person she’d like to see owning guns. It’s just that you may not be.