“Waiting Until Something Bad Happens” Is Also Called “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”

State Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, promotes her "red flag" bill while police chiefs and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, listen at the state Capitol Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. John Hageman / Forum News Service

My last Sunday print column was about HB1537, introduced by state Rep. Karla Rose Hanson (D-Fargo), which would set up a process through which the courts can take away guns from someone based on nothing more than an affidavit from law enforcement or a close relation saying they’re dangerous.

I called this a gun seizure bill. In a column today my colleague Mike McFeely says it isn’t a gun seizure bill because it’s a public safety bill. Albeit one that lets the government take your guns.

I’m not sure I’m following that logic.

Anyway, my column elicited a lot of responses, including this letter to the editor accusing me of wanting to “wait and see” if something bad happens instead of acting proactively to take guns away from someone who might do something bad.

I’m fine with holding people accountable for what they’ve done. I’m not at all comfortable with holding them accountable for what they might do.

The letter writer says this new “red flag” legislation (as supporters call it) is akin to background checks. “A Red Flag law does the same thing as a background check,” the letter writer opines. “We look at some clues and play the odds.”

I’m not sure this person understands how background checks function, or what their role is in gun sales.

Background checks show data that could disqualify someone from purchasing or possessing a weapon. Things like criminal convictions. Things this person has actually done.

This is very different from the proposed “red flag” legislation, because under that regulatory regime people would have a constitutional right denied to them based on what they might do.

That’s the rub.

I’m fine with holding people accountable for what they’ve done. I’m not at all comfortable with holding them accountable for what they might do.

The former is a foundation upon which a peaceful society can be built. The latter is a road to tyranny.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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