Proposed “Red Flag Law” for North Dakota Doesn’t Need to Be Resurrected


“There was a lot of learning that was happening about the gun violence issue as a whole, as well as what this bill would really do,” state Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, a Democrat from Fargo, told my colleague John Hageman. “Sometimes things take more than one session.”

Hanson was responding to questions about whether or not she’d re-introduce so-called “red flag” legislation again in a future legislative session (assuming she’s re-elected, she’s on the ballot this cycle).

Her legislation was a non-starter earlier this year. Despite backing from some law enforcement officials, and even some Republicans, HB1537 was quickly shot down on a 17-76 vote in the state House early in the legislative session.

Hanson may feel like recent shootings will bolster political support for her legislation, and to be sure politicians often feel pressure to do something when the public is agitated, even if that something is bad public policy.

But it seems unlikely Hanson, barring major changes to what she is proposing, is going to gain enough support to pass “red flag” legislation in North Dakota.

For good reason, because her legislation was a terrible idea.

As I wrote in a print column earlier this year, what Hanson proposed “would establish a process through which law enforcement and/or friends and family can petition the courts to seize a person’s firearms.”

This person would have to be adjudicated by the courts to be a danger to themselves or others.

The courts would be allowed to keep weapons away from this individual for up to a year, though they’re able to review the case and renew the prohibition.

The person losing their civil right to keep and bear arms does not actually have to break any laws for this to take place. Others need only say the person is dangerous, putting that person in the position of preserving their rights only by convincing a judge they are not dangerous.

In a podcast interview with me Hanson admitted, despite touting her proposal as a bipartisan effort, that she hadn’t actually reached out to any pro-gun groups while drafting the legislation. She also claimed the legislation protects due process rights, but it really doesn’t.

It makes a mockery of the American notion of due process, which presumes that a person is secure in their rights (up to and including their 2nd amendment rights) until the state meets a burden of proof to remove those rights. Hanson’s process wouldn’t require that anyone actually do anything to break the law. If the cops deemed them dangerous, or if someone around them made a report, these individuals would have to go to court and defend themselves against the accusation or else lose their rights.

What’s more if they wanted the support of legal counsel – the person representing themselves in court has a fool for a client, as the saying goes – they’d have to pay for it out of pocket. This would be a civil proceeding, and the right to counsel doesn’t kick in.

Put simply, Hanson’s law would have allowed the government to initiate a guilty-until-proven-innocent proceeding against you to remove your constitutionally-protected rights which could cost you thousands of dollars to defend against.

Hanson says she’s uncertain if she’ll re-introduce this legislation again in 2021 (assuming she’s re-elected). I’m certainly open to Hanson’s ideas on how to address mass attacks – or anyone else’s, for that matter – but I hope she doesn’t give us the same proposal again.

It was a terrible idea, a horrendous expansion of the government’s ability to deny us our rights, and it was rightly dispatched by the state Legislature.