Editor’s Note: The Lake Geneva Regional News presents “Party Lines,” a monthly discussion of political issues featuring side-by-side guest columnists from the local Democratic and Republican parties. The column below represents one side of this month’s discussion. Click here for the other side.
The media and Democrats tell us it’s because we failed to “do something,” and blame Republicans, though nothing was done when Dems controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress.
The proposal of “red flag” laws generates bipartisan support. Using mental health civil commitment laws would be more effective. These are already available; it is blatantly untrue that “nothing can be done” until after a dangerous act.
Wisconsin statutes require a “probability of physical harm to other persons” based on evidence that “others are placed in reasonable fear.” An overwhelming portion of mass shooters have symptoms justifying interventions based on commitment laws.
All states have such laws, and after multiple Supreme Court rulings, civil commitment is similar throughout, and provides subjects due process protections. Officers detain the subject until released by the court or mental health professionals. In Wisconsin, an initial court case must occur within three business days, the subject must have access to an attorney and be able to confront witnesses. From a constitutional perspective these are essential aspects of due process, which some red flag proposals ignore.
If a court further detains the subject, there must be a second hearing within two weeks. At that hearing a renewable six-month commitment may be ordered to be served, in- or outpatient. From that point onward, possession of a gun is a federal crime and produces failed background checks.
A high percentage of mass murderers have psychiatric symptoms and could be so detained. They would be involved with law enforcement, off the street for a period of time, may be committed, or voluntary outpatient follow-up can be arranged.
Witnesses often fear involvement in commitment proceedings even though the subject is detained. Red flag laws require that someone notify law enforcement, but the subject remains in the community, free to use other means of violence; obviously not everyone will take that risk.
I suggest we expand general knowledge of — and encourage use of — existing commitment laws before trying red flag laws.
Other proposals would take time to enact, and risk giving a false sense of having done “something.” I doubt they will deter mass killers.
Regarding background checks, other than for private gun sellers, they are already required. Redefining a private seller from the current “anyone not relying on this as their principal source of income” to someone selling a few guns per year seems reasonable.
“Assault rifles” is a vague term, the general banning of which could produce a slippery slope, as happened in Britain where even carrying a knife is now illegal. A more concrete proposal, less open to interpretation, is to ban clips with more than some specific number of rounds. The shooter in Dayton used a 100-round clip made to fire 41 rounds in less than a minute. Some states already have limits of 10 or 15 rounds.
The overall problem of domestic terrorism, often racially motivated, will not be influenced by background checks or gun limitations. These terrorists are angry, alienated, young men often with a mishmash of radical ideas. A worldwide internet community allows them to share their depraved thinking. The 2011 Norway shooter, who killed 69 people (plus eight more from a bomb), the Columbine killers, and others are idolized. High body counts are praised. As with jihadism, social media radicalizes and spurs on violence.
The FBI is soliciting proposals for vendors to monitor the mass of data online. Warrants could be served for further information, even Facebook cooperates with these. Private companies are also de-platforming terrorist sites. I think these interventions should be encouraged.
I hope that the “something” being passionately requested will actually produce results, not just appease the passion. Let’s put some rational thought into this rather than just blaming each other.
Pamela B. Wolfe of the town of Geneva is a member of the Republican Party of Walworth County.