A “Red Flag” in Our Trust of the Judiciary


Have we completely lost our understanding of why the founders of our nation attempted to design a system of government that didn’t rely on the good will and unassailable wisdom of the human beings who wield government’s incredible power?  One can only conclude that we have when reading proposed legislation sponsored by Democrat Representative Dennis Canario (Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton).

The “red flag” bill would allow law enforcement personnel, including the AG’s office, or a household or family member of a gun owner to petition the court to have a person’s guns removed and to block him or her from buying new ones.

A single judge then decides the matter, with limited information and with no outside check (like a psychiatrist) required.  All of this potentially happens without the knowledge of the person whose rights are under attack.

With regard to our Constitutional rights, the step of taking somebody’s weapons should be the end of a process, not the first step.  In the immediacy of an actual incident “get the guns out of there” might be a reasonable first action, but not as a general rule, as this legislation makes it.

The point about trusting judges is equally important.  We have judges because sometimes it comes down to somebody having to decide something, not because we think that people who take that position are somehow wiser or more objective.  It should be that somebody has to decide, not that we want to let somebody decide.

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Even with things far less consequential than Constitutional rights, we recognize the importance of protections.  In the Olympics, events that require subjective review have multiple judges, from multiple countries.  We only use umpires or referees when we’re applying a clear rule to a set of circumstances.

This legislation comes nowhere near a clear standard.  It merely offers some suggestions about what a judge should consider, and with no consequence for frivolous petitions. * Moreover, it transforms the concept of a “red flag,” which should mean enhanced scrutiny, into a regime of confiscation.

In short, it’s the sort of tyranny that inspired our forefathers to explicitly write down certain of our rights and the boundaries of government.


* The legislation does include language making it a misdemeanor to file petitions “knowing the information in such petition to be
materially false, or with intent to harass the respondent.”  The bar to prove intent in either case could be high, however, especially if the petition comes from law enforcement.  Moreover, if law enforcement files the petition in good faith based on false information, the language in the bill would not appear to cover that lie.  (Although, it’s possible that other laws would come into play.