While Democratic lawmakers in North Carolina are calling on their colleagues to “do something” in the wake of two mass shootings, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest says their proposed legislation does not protect Americans’ constitutional rights.
Last week, more than three dozen Democratic legislators signed a discharged petition to push for a hearing of a red flag law, which would allow a judge to order guns to be temporarily taken away from people who may serve as a threat.
But the lieutenant governor said lawmakers need to focus on the psychological motives behind the shootings instead of suppressing the right to bear arms.
"While solutions to address the problem of mass murders in our country are way past due, I have yet to see a 'red flag' bill that adequately protects the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans,” said Forest. “Instead, what we get are overly broad, undefined plans that could lead to government gun confiscation.”
House Bill 454 authorizes relatives, household members and law enforcement to obtain extreme risk protection orders (ERPO) to restrict firearm access to people who “pose a danger” to themselves or others. Fifteen states have enacted similar laws, and others have proposed the restrictions since the El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio massacres that killed 31 people on Aug. 3. Supporters of the bill say it is constitutional sound. A gun-rights advocate says not so much.
“I am not a constitutional scholar, but I am aware that there are public safety restraints,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison.
Harrison compared the constitutional grounds of the red flag law to obtaining a permit for a parade or firing a gun in a crowded public place.
Gun violence is a public health crisis, said Rep. Christy Clark.
Gun deaths have reached a record high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Firearm deaths have peaked by more than 10,000 over the last 10 years.
Clark, who works as a paralegal, also said that the red flag law has due process protections.
A family member or law enforcement who requests an extreme risk protection order must appear before a judge to provide evidence to support the need for the order.
“The judge can then order a person’s firearms be temporarily removed until the crisis is remedied,” said Clark in a statement. “The person in question has the opportunity to respond to any evidence presented and potentially have his/her firearms returned.”
David Kopel, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Denver, said due process protections in the bill are weak.
When an order is terminated, the owner has to file a motion in court.
“Even then, the sheriff can keep the guns for an additional 30 days,” said Kopel.
Kopel said the bill allows petitions by a wide variety of people instead of relying on the law enforcement investigation.
Clark argues that the bill makes it a criminal offense to make a false statement for a protection order, but Kopel said there should be a provision for civil suits for false and malicious accusations.