Attendees check out guns on display at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Dallas last month. (Lynda Gonzalez / KUT)
State representatives on Monday began discussing whether a “red flag” law giving courts the ability to remove guns from a person considered dangerous would work in Texas.
Buried inside Gov. Greg Abbott’s 44-page school safety plan is a recommendation for the state to explore the merits of such a measure. Some lawmakers believe red flag laws could have stopped the fatal shootings in Sutherland Springs and Parkland, Fla., where the gunmen showed signs of a potential for violence.
“I think it says a lot that [Abbott] has asked for the Legislature to look at it. That’s certainly more of a conversation than we’ve had in the past,” Rep. Joe Moody said. The Democrat from El Paso is heading up the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, which was tasked with studying a potential law.
Texas is staunchly pro-Second Amendment. Moody and other lawmakers have unsuccessfully proposed similar measures in the past. Now, in the aftermath of the shooting at Santa Fe High School, he said Abbott’s plan may carry some momentum.
“The fact that he’s placed it front and center along with other priorities, I think that gives it more weight and more credibility,” he said.
The idea behind a red flag gun law is simple: to give courts and law enforcement the ability to remove guns from individuals who are at risk of hurting themselves or others. Eleven states have similar laws – six passed in the wake of the high school shooting in Parkland.
But such a proposal is nuanced. When Rhode Island implemented its red flag law, the American Civil Liberties Union said the state had a right to create gun-safety measures, but warned the government about overstepping its bounds on individual liberties and due process.
“One analogy other than tight rope is a balancing test,” Timothy Lytton, a law professor at Georgia State University, said. “On the one hand, you want to balance the government’s interest or the public interest – in this case, safety – against … what the deprivation of rights would cost the person whose liberty is being affected.”
He noted that the government will also need to weigh the accuracy of the process used to determine if an individual should be considered dangerous.
There is also another consideration: Do red flag laws even work when it comes to stopping mass shootings?
“The answer is: Nobody knows … If you want to pass something, you’re going to have to do something that is very experimental,” Lytton said, citing the federal bans on gun violence research. “The Legislature is going to be shooting in the dark, and the reason is because the federal government turned off the lights on this question.”
While the laws’ effects on mass shootings are up in the air, a recent study found they do have a significant impact on preventing suicides.