I’ve been finding the news cycles discouraging lately, even frightening. We’re fallen creatures, so even a casual familiarity with history will show that the madness isn’t anything new or different. What’s discouraging at this moment is the acceleration of the movement to undermine the principles of freedom and (at least) aspiration to consider things logically and with mutual respect.
Even things that ought to be encouraging have the feel of futility. It feels, for example, like a sign of how far things have gone that I’m agreeing so much with the Rhode Island ACLU more often, and not because I’m changing my worldview. The latest area of agreement comes with the organization’s statement of concern about proposed “red flag” legislation proposing to empower law enforcement personnel and a single judge to predict that a person is likely enough to do harm that he or she loses his Second Amendment rights (emphasis added):
The heart of the legislation’s ERPO process requires speculation – on the part of both the petitioner and judges – about an individual’s risk of possible violence. But, the ACLU analysis notes: “Psychiatry and the medical sciences have not succeeded in this realm, and there is no basis for believing courts will do any better. The result will likely be a significant impact on the rights of many innocent individuals in the hope of preventing a tragedy.”The ACLU’s analysis concludes:“People who are not alleged to have committed a crime should not be subject to severe deprivations of liberty interests, and deprivations for lengthy periods of time, in the absence of a clear, compelling and immediate showing of need. As well-intentioned as this legislation is, its breadth and its lenient standards for both applying for and granting an ERPO are cause for great concern.
We’ll see how this plays out. The RI ACLU was correct, as well, to express concern with the lurching of the Rhode Island Senate to expel an elected member and leave his district without representation on the strength of allegations. Republican Senator Nicholas Kettle’s resignation saved Senate leaders from having to follow through on their threats — and saved the ACLU from having to judge the process one way or another — but there’s no similar out in this case.
The question for legislators and for the rest of us is whether Rhode Island is now a state in which the ACLU can fall outside of the boundaries of acceptable opinion on the conservative side of the spectrum.