Op-Ed: New ‘red flag’ bill is no better than the original. What happened?

Jun 10, 2019

The following op-ed by Karin Leuthy appeared in the Bangor Daily News on June 10, 2019. 

Surprisingly little has been reported about Gov. Janet Mills’ behind-the-scenes efforts to work directly with gun owners groups on gun control legislation. The result of that effort was recently introduced as LD 1811, a “red flag alternative.” While all Mainers should be pleased to see that groups such as the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and Gun Owners of Maine now recognize that the deadly combination of people in crisis and guns is deserving of legislative action, they also should have serious concerns about the process involved in crafting this bill and the impact that process is having on other bills before the Legislature.

LD 1811 has merits. It allows for the temporary removal of firearms from people in crisis. It allows those who have had their weapons removed to receive a full party hearing within 14 days. It provides counsel if the person cannot afford it. It provides an opportunity for the court to mandate supportive health care. And it provides a year-long extension of the weapons removal should the person still be shown to be a threat after 14 days. All of these elements are being praised by leaders of SAM and GOME as important due process and constitutional protections. They are right to do so.

What SAM and GOME leaders fail to note, however, is that all of those same protections are also found in LD 1312, the original “red flag” bill. In fact, those protections are even stronger in LD 1312.

In the original red flag bill, evidence brought by household members or law enforcement officers is weighed by a neutral judge before the Extreme Risk Protection Order is authorized. In LD 1811, anyone can make a claim to a police officer that any person — household member or complete stranger — poses a threat. There is no weighing of evidence by a neutral judge in the alternative bill. Instead, police officers take subjects into protective custody, and health care providers assess risk of harm to determine if weapons should be removed.

Gun owners have complained that the original red flag bill authorizes law enforcement to remove weapons when no crime has been committed. Yet SAM and GOME support the alternative bill, which authorizes the removal of both people and weapons before a crime has been committed.

Another common refrain by gun owners is that the original red flag bill’s “ex parte” element — a hearing where the gun owner is not present — is unfair. Yet the alternative bill has the same feature. It’s not called ex parte because there is no judicial hearing at the outset, but the subject of the order is still not present when the decision is made to take the person into custody.

Mainers of all political stripes should find these backroom deals utterly abhorrent. Those who care about reducing gun violence, protecting gun owners’ rights and saving lives should work to ensure that every good bill gets its day.

Karin Leuthy of Camden is a founder of Suit Up Maine.

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