Our View: ‘Red flag’ laws are about more than mass shootings


This session, the Legislature has a real chance to save lives.

L.D. 1312, from Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, revives the “red flag” bill that passed both chambers last year but was vetoed by then-Gov. Paul LePage. It would allow the temporary confiscation of firearms from someone who has been found by a court to be a danger to themselves or others.

Red flag laws have gained popularity since the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last year. The shooter in that case had exhibited troubling behavior in the time leading up to shooting, but there were no mechanisms in the law for cutting off his access to guns.

That has been the case in a frustrating number of mass shootings. Red flag laws can help close that gap. They can give families and law enforcement another tool for dealing with people who are escalating toward a violent act but have not yet broken any laws.


But it goes much further than mass shootings. In states where red flag laws are in place, they have been used most often in cases where suicide is feared.

Suicide is highly preventable. If someone can get through a suicidal crisis, it is likely that they will never kill themselves.

However, just having a gun in the house increases the risk of suicide for someone in crisis. And unlike other methods, suicide attempts by firearm are almost always fatal — most of the time, there are no opportunities for second thoughts.

A study in Connecticut found that the state’s first-in-the-nation red flag law saved about 70 suicides over the course of 19 years. For the 10 years following the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, which brought renewed attention to and use of the law, firearm suicides fell by 13.7 percent.

Likewise, in Indiana, the second state to enact a red flag law, firearm suicides fell by 7.5 percent in 10 years, with no accompanying rise in other forms of suicide.

Maine has the 22nd highest suicide rate in the country; in 2016, it was the 10th-leading cause of death here. Each year, more than 100 Mainers die by self-inflicted gunshot.


Opposition to red flag laws in Maine has largely come from sportsmen’s groups and gun rights advocates. They say such laws take away a person’s rights of due process, and open the way for people to file false claims by way of revenge or retaliation.

In order to confiscate someone’s firearms, however, family members or police must convince a judge that there is probable cause that there is an “immediate and present danger” the person will cause bodily harm to themselves or others.

If the judge rules there is probably cause, the firearms are then confiscated. However, a hearing must be held within 14 days among all parties. If the judge then rules there is “clear and convincing evidence” that the person is still a threat, the order is put in place for 365 days.

That is hardly any different than a protection from abuse order, which is created through largely the same process, and allows a judge to restrict who someone can talk to and where they can go.

And the orders are not given out capriciously — they are the result of a process with checks and balances that can suss out false claims.

Red flag laws don’t trample on rights. They are not a shadow “gun grab.”

They are another option for families wondering just what they can do with a loved one in crisis. They are a tool for police, who are limited now in how they can intervene, even when a situation is truly dangerous.

Red flag laws save lives, and we should have one in Maine.


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