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Red flag laws, not gun control, are the way to stop mass shootings, proponent says

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

How does a free society balance a constitutional right to bear arms with the rights of its citizens to feel safe from gun violence? Some progressives are calling for a nationwide ban on assault weapons following the most recent mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y. and Uvalde, Texas. Others believe red flag laws offer a better solution. David French is among them. He's a senior editor of The Dispatch. He wrote an essay titled with a directive, quote, "pass and enforce red flag laws now."

DAVID FRENCH: Red flag laws are laws that allow a person - such as a family member, a school official, an employer a police officer - to go into court and secure an order from a court requiring the police to seize guns from someone who's demonstrated that they're a threat to themselves or others. And the reason why this law is very important is because if you look at mass shootings as a distinct class and a distinct type of crime, you'll notice a few things. One, vast majority of mass shooters obtain their guns legally. No. 2, vast majority of mass shooters use handguns instead of these so-called assault rifle-type weapons or assault weapons. But a majority of mass shooters actually leak or broadcast or advertise their intention in some way to commit murder. And so red flag laws are designed to deal with this situation where someone is sort of radiating this threat to the rest of the community.

MARTIN: And to be clear, there's nothing in the Second Amendment that would prevent states from passing these laws, correct?

FRENCH: No, because what red flag laws do is they say, your right to keep and bear arms is contingent upon exercising a degree of responsibility.

MARTIN: Then what's the resistance, especially from red states?

FRENCH: The resistance has been this sort of idea that they could be subject to abuse. In other words, a vindictive person could see on social media that someone has posted that they bought a gun and try to get that gun seized without any other evidence of threat, or that they could be used - wielded as weapons in sort of domestic disputes. And then, also, there have been due process objections raised. But the due process objection here, I think, is dealt with by the precedent of domestic violence restraining orders. This is not something that courts are unaccustomed to. It's the idea of dealing with somebody who is demonstrating that they're a threat to themselves or others.

MARTIN: We have to point out, I mean, it's not a panacea, right?

FRENCH: Right.

MARTIN: New York has a red flag law on the books. And it didn't stop the Buffalo shooter this month.

FRENCH: That was a terrible example in Buffalo, N.Y., where a red flag law should have prohibited that shooter from obtaining any weapons and should have allowed police to seize weapons from that shooter. But it wasn't utilized. So that's why, you know, there has been federal legislation proposed - bipartisan federal legislation, in fact, proposed as recently as 2021 that would not only provide federal grant incentives for red flag laws, but federal funding to assist in the implementation.

MARTIN: Why not just ban the AR-15-style automatic rifles altogether?

FRENCH: Well, the problem with banning those weapons altogether, one, is it's a virtual impossibility. There's tens of millions, 20 million, maybe, or more of them in circulation right now. The other thing is the vast majority of these mass killings occur with handguns. What you're talking about when you're talking a banning of assault weapons, I'm not sure that you're talking about ending mass killings in any real meaningful way at all.

MARTIN: But that's the phrase that, I think, trips this whole thing up, in any meaningful way at all. That's so subjective - is it not? - because even red flag laws, we've just established that it's not going to solve everything.

FRENCH: You're talking about taking a measure with red flag laws that's targeted specifically at the conduct and the fact patterns of mass shootings versus imposing a ban on a weapon that millions of people use lawfully and, in many cases, has proved in other jurisdictions where there are assault weapons bans completely ineffective at stopping a determined criminal from obtaining an assault weapon or modifying an otherwise legal weapon to be an assault weapon. It seems to me that if we're wanting to really target mass shootings, we would - should go where the evidence leads us. I guess it's somewhat puzzling to me why, when we see many, many instances where people obtain assault weapons even unlawfully and use them or modify them to make them unlawful, that becomes the primary focus of public debate when they're not even used for a vast majority of mass killings.

MARTIN: Well, because they're the most egregious, right? Like, they - it was a weapon that was explicitly designed to kill as many people as possible in a short period of time. And I think the question is always, why do civilians even need this weapon?

FRENCH: One of the things that the Second Amendment does is it protects your right of self-defense. So for example, you know, my family has been under threat off and on for several years. And...

MARTIN: Because of - we should say, because of your writing and...

FRENCH: Yes.

MARTIN: ...Different issues you've taken a position on, yes.

FRENCH: Yes. And in that circumstance, I feel like I have to defend myself against a foreseeable threat. And the foreseeable threat is a person who possesses either a semiautomatic rifle or a semiautomatic pistol. And so that's what we use to defend our family is a semiautomatic rifle at home. And then when you carry a weapon, a semiautomatic pistol.

MARTIN: You have that in your home, David?

FRENCH: Yes, absolutely.

MARTIN: An AR-15-style weapon?

FRENCH: Yes. Yes.

MARTIN: And it makes you feel safer?

FRENCH: It makes me safer. It's not just a feeling. It's a reality. It does make me safer. What's the justification for me acquiescing to a legal regime that permits the criminal to have the semiautomatic weapon, because, like, we're not going to stop them from possessing one of the most common kinds of firearms that exists in the entire United States, but would prevent me from having it for self-defense?

MARTIN: But, David, how do we balance this? I hear you. But how do you balance that with the rights of people, American citizens, children to live their life without fear that someone is randomly going to shoot them and kill them?

FRENCH: What I advocate is that if you want to do something, rather than focus your energies on something that has not been proven to deal with the mass shooting threat, that's extraordinarily difficult to pass under the best of circumstances, instead concentrating on something that is targeted at the mass shooting threat, that has bipartisan support, has been implemented in many, many jurisdictions. What is interesting to me is that Governor Abbott, several years ago, indicated an openness to red flag laws, as did the NRA after Parkland very briefly. But the - sort of the grassroots gun rights base of the GOP has really vigorously opposed these laws. And so a number of Republicans who have at least indicated openness, including Donald Trump - President Trump, when he was president, indicated an openness to red flag laws. But the grassroots GOP shut down a lot of that conversation. It's time to restart it.

MARTIN: David French is the senior editor of The Dispatch. David, I appreciate you having this conversation. Thank you.

FRENCH: Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.