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VICTOR JOECKS: Controversial gun control measure could pass without a hearing

Updated May 23, 2019 - 10:02 pm

The Legislature could pass a controversial gun control measure without ever holding a public hearing.

At issue is a red flag law, which allows courts to order the confiscation of weapons from people who pose a threat to themselves or others.

Narrowly tailored, these laws can be beneficial. For instance, the Parkland, Florida, school shooter had a history of disturbing and dangerous behavior. Police went to his house 39 times in seven years. It could have prevented a mass murder had a court taken away his weapons.

In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, some prominent conservatives, such as David French with National Review, came out in support of red flag laws. But getting the details wrong can turn a good idea into a bad law. It’s a tough balancing act to design a statute that allows government to seize someone’s weapons while respecting an individual’s right to due process.

Finding that balance requires discussion and compromise. That could have happened. Early in the session, state Sen. Julia Ratti, D-Sparks, proposed a very broad red flag bill, Senate Bill 120. For instance, included in the definition of high-risk behavior was the act of acquiring a firearm within six months of displaying a firearm.

A judge who determined someone engaged in those behaviors and posed a risk could order that individual to turn over his or her firearms to law enforcement. The bill also required only “clear and convincing” evidence, a lower standard than beyond a reasonable doubt. Under the proposal, a judge could have ordered an individual’s firearms be confiscated without the subject knowing he’d been accused of threatening behavior.

If the court issued such an order — potentially without the person’s knowledge — the information would have been sent to the Nevada Records of Criminal History. Subjects would thus be prevented from passing a background check if they tried to legally buy a firearm. That makes sense. No point in taking someone’s firearms away if they’re allowed to just buy another one. What doesn’t make sense is that if the information doesn’t get removed automatically from the database if the court removes the protection order. The individual must petition a court to remove it.

This means the government could take your guns without you even knowing you’d been accused. And if you cleared your name, you’d have to return to court to restore your ability to purchase firearms. So much for innocent until proven guilty and due process.

Public and behind-the-scenes input would have improved this bill. But SB120 died in mid-April without a hearing.

That should have been the end of it. But Democrats are now considering amending a red flag law into Assembly Bill 291, which bans bump stocks.

If that happens, there won’t be a public hearing and gun owners may not even find out what’s in the bill until after it has passed.

That would be a mistake. A conversation about a red flag law is worth having, but getting the details right won’t happen if Democrats rush it through.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 10 a.m. with Kevin Wall on 790 Talk Now. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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