Buckeye, AZ –-(Ammoland.com)- The NRA, President Trump, Republican members of Congress, and commentators like Ben Shapiro are all advocating in favor of so-called Extreme Risk Protection Orders, or ERPO’s. Unfortunately, it’s a bad move that will hurt gun owners and Second Amendment rights.
The idea behind an ERPO is that if someone is acting crazy, a family member or police officer can file for one of these orders, and the dangerous person’s guns can be taken away from them.
That appears reasonable and rational at first glance, but thinking things through, the idea goes from warm and fuzzy to a whole bunch of cold and prickly.
The first problem with the ERPO idea is that it singles out gun ownership. No one likes to have a target drawn on their forehead, and that's exactly what an ERPO does to gun owners. It reinforces the mistaken notion that gun ownership is a problem in itself.
Let’s get something straight: Guns are not the problem.
Americans own hundreds of millions of guns, and only a miniscule fraction of one percent of those guns are ever used to harm anyone. Crime, violence, and suicide are not problems of tools; they are people problems. And while guns are tools that are readily usable and effective for crime, violence, and suicide, removing or prohibiting the tool does not curb the behavior, nor even effectively make the tool disappear.
The second problem with ERPO’s is that they skip right past due process and directly infringe on an enumerated right, often based on the say-so of a single individual.
The NRA at least draws their line here. They oppose ERPO laws that fail to provide at least some form of due process. Unfortunately they go on to set the bar for what they consider to be acceptable due process very low, leaving gun owners at undue risk, and holding the bag for costly and time-consuming remedies.
The third problem with ERPO's relates directly back to the first two. The ERPO is redundant. There is already a much better alternative available to family members and law enforcement in every state. If a person is demonstrating unstable behavior that poses a threat to themselves or others, that person can be taken into custody for a temporary evaluation period. In custody, they not only do not have access to guns, they are also kept away from cars, household chemicals, matches, and sharp objects. If needed, a mentally unstable person can be committed indefinitely for psychiatric care. The commitment option is drastic, and all concerned are reticent to employ it in anything other than the most dire of circumstances. It is in fact this reticence which keeps these laws from being widely abused, because the laws themselves are generally written very broadly with little consideration for due process. But because judges take the issue of incarcerating a person against their will, very seriously, they are generally very cautious about employing this drastic measure.
The same cannot be said about judges’ attitudes towards the right to arms. The Second Amendment has never been accorded the same respect and consideration by the courts that are given to other fundamental rights. Most judges would put less weight on suspending a person's Second Amendment rights than suspending their drivers license.
Guns are being used as a scapegoat to avoid addressing the real problems with real solutions. Anyone who is a serious threat to himself needs treatment and close observation, not police demanding his firearms. If a person truly poses a serious threat to others, he needs to be isolated in a place where he can't hurt anyone, not have some of his property confiscated, then left to his own devices.
As recent celebrity suicides have demonstrated, guns are not a necessary tool for suicide. Neither are guns a necessary component of a terror attack. Taking guns from a dangerously insane person and yet leaving him free to drive a car or purchase bomb materials from the hardware store, is not a sound preventive strategy.
Extreme Risk Protection Orders do not call for the taking of car keys, kitchen knives, chainsaws, explosive chemicals, or other dangerous items… Only guns. But the authorities in most places don't know what guns a person might possess.
Anyone who has been through a contentious divorce or child custody battle, or has seen someone close to them go through something like that, knows that restraining orders and orders of protection are handed out by judges like breath mints. Judges frequently take a “better safe than sorry,” position, even though these orders have no real effect on the behavior of truly dangerous people. And gun owners have already been singled out for extra oppression simply because they are gun owners. Again, the ERPO law doesn't take away vehicles, knives, or matches… Only guns.
Taking guns away from someone who appears to be mentally unstable and dangerous, seems like a good idea. Why would such a person have them in the first place? But when you really examine the issue, it makes no sense at all. If a person truly is mentally unstable and dangerous, why are they free on the streets? Why aren't they someplace safe where they can receive the help they need?
When you think about an ERPO, look beyond the seemingly easy solution, and think about what could go wrong and how the law can be abused or misapplied. H.L. Mencken said it best a long time ago: “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” The ERPO idea is just such an answer.
About Jeff Knox:
Jeff Knox is a second-generation political activist and director of The Firearms Coalition. His father Neal Knox led many of the early gun rights battles for your right to keep and bear arms. Read Neal Knox – The Gun Rights War.
The Firearms Coalition is a loose-knit coalition of individual Second Amendment activists, clubs and civil rights organizations. Founded by Neal Knox in 1984, the organization provides support to grassroots activists in the form of education, analysis of current issues, and with a historical perspective of the gun rights movement. The Firearms Coalition has offices in Buckeye, Arizona and Manassas, VA. Visit: www.FirearmsCoalition.