In an excellent Reason article, Jacob Sullum argues that states with red flag gun confiscation laws are depriving their residents of their Second Amendment rights.
Sullum highlights the tragic case of Gary Willis, a Maryland man who became red flag laws’ most high profile victim.
Shortly after 5 a.m. on November 5, 2018, two police officers arrived at Gary Willis’ house in Glen Burnie, Maryland. They were there to take away his guns. They ended up killing him instead.
Sullum continued giving more specifics about this incident:
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According to the Anne Arundel County Police Department, the 61-year-old man, who at that hour presumably had just been awakened by the officers’ knocking, answered the door with a gun in his hand. He put it down when he saw who was there. Upon learning that the two officers had come to serve him with an “extreme risk protective order” (ERPO) that barred him from possessing firearms, police said, Willis became “irate” and picked up the weapon again.
Sadly, this event ended in tragedy.
As one officer tried to wrestle the gun away from Willis, it went off, whereupon the other officer shot him.
After this incident, Police Chief Timothy Altomare tried to rationalize his officers’ action:
Police Chief Timothy Altomare subsequently argued that the incident illustrated the need for Maryland’s ERPO law, which had taken effect barely a month before. “If you look at this morning’s outcome,” he told the Annapolis Capital, a newspaper whose headquarters had been the site of a mass shooting the previous June, “it’s tough for us to say ‘Well, what did we prevent?’ Because we don’t know what we prevented or could’ve prevented. What would’ve happened if we didn’t go there at 5 a.m.?”
Sullum makes a good counterpoint to Altomare’s hypothetical question “Gary Willis probably would still be alive.” In fact, Sullum explains that the evidence of Willis using a gun to kill someone is flimsy at best.
Yet at the time of his death, the only evidence to support that concern seems to have been a complaint from his sister, who reportedly obtained the temporary ERPO against her brother after a family argument during which he said something that alarmed her. Willis had no opportunity to challenge that claim, and he had no idea he had been stripped of his Second Amendment rights until police arrived at his door early in the morning with the court order in hand.
Interviews with relatives revealed that the ERPO came about from an “argument the day before about the care of Willis’ elderly mother.” WBFF, the local Fox station, reports that “Gary Willis struggle[d] with alcoholism” but “family say he wasn’t dangerous, just strongly opinionated.”
The niece of the deceased Maryland man, Michele Willis, also provided a similar perspective during an interview with The Baltimore Sun. She claimed that her uncle “likes to speak his mind” but “wouldn’t hurt anybody.” Willis also opined that the cop’s use of lethal force went too far. “I’m just dumbfounded now,” she stated. “They didn’t need to do what they did.”
17 states already have red flag laws. These laws are a gun control policy that has become popular for politicians on both sides of the aisle. Bipartisan coalescence around wedge issues like gun control is never a good sign. Additionally, red flag laws are due process killers which enable a wide range of people to make ERPO requests based on dubious evidence. The burden is then shifted on gun owners to prove that they’re not an imminent danger to themselves or others.
The so-called “benefits” of red flag laws are speculative in nature, but it’s clear they come with blatant constitutional abuses. However, for politicians who feel compelled to “do something” after heated political incidents, they seem like a common sense policy.