Officials have issued thirty-six orders under Virginia’s new red flag law since it went into effect in July. The law allows judges to classify individuals as being a ‘substantial risk’ to themselves or others, and bans them from possessing firearms. The law was passed in January following a party-line vote with no Republicans voting in favor.
Ten of the orders issued under the new law so far are permanent; the other 26 were 14-day restrictions, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Similar laws have been supported nationally by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, who say the laws are a common-sense way to increase gun safety.
In August 2019, President Trump said, “We must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment but when necessary, involuntary confinement. Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.” Trump added, “We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms, and if they do, that those firearms can be taken through rapid due process. That is why I have called for red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders.”
However, gun rights advocates warn that red flag laws circumvent due process and protections granted by the Bill of Rights. The Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) warns on their website, “The person accused of being ‘dangerous’ has not committed a crime and has no notice there is a problem until the police show up, pre-dawn, with guns drawn and confiscate the accused’s firearms. The accused is not given due process to defend himself or herself in court from the accusation for weeks or months after the confiscation. It is up to the accused to prove that he or she is not dangerous!”
The VCDL is also concerned that the laws could be weaponized by citizens to harm other people. “In Maryland, which recently enacted such a law, two-thirds of the requests for confiscation were deemed frivolous. In other words, most of the requests that were denied were from people wanting to ‘get even’ with someone else by making their lives miserable!”
Unlike Maryland, Virginia’s version of the law only allows law enforcement officers or Commonwealth’s attorneys to petition the court to declare someone a substantial risk, and trigger the law.
“If a person is ‘too dangerous’ to own a gun, then why is that person left walking around with the rest of us? Can’t that ‘dangerous’ person still commit suicide or harm others if they have the opportunity? The answer to both questions is that Red Flag laws are about confiscating guns, not saving lives,” the VCDL’s website declares.
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