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‘Red flag’ bill must at least get a vote

July 30, 2018

Soon after the terrible shooting at Santa Fe High School in May, top state officials did something they rarely do. They came out in support of a proposal that might prevent similar tragedies in the future — a so-called “red flag” law. It would allow a judge to order guns taken away from a person who was declared seriously unstable or making explicit threats.

That early momentum is fading, however. Gov. Greg Abbott initially said he supported a red flag law for Texas but now he’s backing away. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick flat-out opposes the concept. The Texas House of Representatives has not yet chosen a leader to succeed outgoing Speaker Joe Straus, who was open to that legislation.

Other Republicans in the Legislature should speak up now as preparations get under way for the next regular session in January. They should insist that a red flag law at least come up for a vote in each chamber instead of being stalled by the speaker or lieutenant governor. In turn, Patrick and whoever the next speaker should agree to let their colleagues vote on the issue even if they personally oppose it. Abbott should clarify his stance on this issue, and explain any change in his views after the Santa Fe shooting.

Two misconceptions are linked to red flag laws — that they avoid due process and open the door to gun confiscation. Neither is true.

Under a well-crafted red-flag law, guns could be removed from someone’s possession only after a judge approved that move based on evidence presented by law enforcement and district attorneys. These actions would be rare and have no effect on the overwhelming majority of gun owners.

After the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, earlier this year, the Florida Legislature finally approved a red flag law. Florida, like Texas, is controlled by conservative Republicans who strongly support the Second Amendment.

Yet they did this because the Parkland shooter gave plenty of warning signs that he was unhinged. Several people who knew him called police or even the FBI, pleading that he be stopped before he did something horrible — like shoot up a high school. Sadly, that is exactly what he did — even though symbolic “red flags” were raised early on about this danger.

Texas officials say that school safety will be a priority in the next session because of the Santa Fe shooting. That is entirely appropriate, and a wide range of measures should be considered, from changes in building design to better monitoring of social media for threats by students. The House and Senate must be allowed to vote on adding a red flag law to the protections afforded to Texas students.

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