Jonathan Hoffman: 'Red Flag' laws are about seizing guns, not protecting citizens

Jonathan Hoffman: 'Red Flag' laws are about seizing guns, not protecting citizens

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is very enthusiastic about enacting some type of “red flag” law. He was quoted in the Arizona Capitol Times as saying, “I think the STOP plan — the Severe Threat Order of Protection — is the crown jewel of our safe schools plan,” and, “It’s the one tool that could have eliminated the mass shootings that have happened in other places in the country.”

Seventeen states have red-flag laws, passed with the intent to keep firearms out of the hands of a person whom a judge determines to be a danger to himself or others.

The procedure is basically the same in all states: A petition is presented to a judge, who may then issue an ex parte order to seize a person’s firearms and hold them until a hearing is held, in which the owner of the firearms argues for their return.

The judge issues a final order to either return the firearms to their owner or to keep them for a certain time period. The states do, however, vary somewhat as to the standard of evidence and who can bring the petition.

Five states require that petitions originate from a law enforcement officer or prosecutor while the other seven also allow for blood relatives, in-laws, current and former co-habitants, current and former intimates, physicians, and others.

Of course, it will not stop there. California has pending legislation that would add employers, co-workers and school personnel. No doubt, more will follow.

Some of the evidentiary standards will make some squirm in their seats. Some are vague, as are “significant risk” or “risk of danger,” for example, while some are a rather low bar as in “preponderance of evidence.”

You know, it just occurred to me that motor vehicles have driven into crowds in this country to commit mass murder. Does it make any sense to take the subject’s firearms and leave him with his car, now more angry than ever? Oh yeah, and grab any aircraft to which he has access too.

There is no proof or evidence that these laws have ever prevented a mass shooting — though to be fair, coming up with that sort of proof or evidence is an impossibility. There is no crystal ball with which we see into the future to see if an individual will commit murder or not — this is reality, not some Philip K. Dick novel. That’s why, traditionally at least, in this country we prosecute people for what they do, not for what we think they might do.

I have always said that the cause of a murder is the perpetrator and not the weapon, and that chasing weapons shows a disingenuousness on the part of the “gun control” activists. These red-flag or “STOP” plans seem to address the potential perpetrator at first, but quickly shift back to gun confiscation.

I asked for an opinion on these laws from fellow Tucsonan Charles Heller, former executive director of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (JPFO) and co-founder of Arizona Citizens Defense League.

He told me, “These red-flag laws are not intended to curb violence. By definition, they are not capable of doing so because they limit an item, not a behavior. They are intended to curb ownership.”

I asked Heller if there were not already laws in place that allow a judge to issue a temporary order to hospitalize a person for observation? Before I could complete the thought, he said, “ARS 36-520 through 526.”

ARS 36-520 is a procedure by which a person alleged to be a danger to himself or others may be subjected to an involuntary psychiatric evaluation.

So, what is wrong with ARS 36-520 that we need red-flag laws? I suppose it is because ARS 36-520 is about treating a patient and protecting those around him, not about seizing guns.

Jonathan Hoffman has lived and worked in Tucson for 40 years. Write to him at

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