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Red Flags: Gun legislation must be weighed carefully

Two West Virginia legislators have said our state needs a “red flag” law to ban access to firearms by dangerous people. The most obvious concern with that is how “dangerous” will be defined — and who will decide if a person’s Second Amendment rights will be revoked.

Mass murders in Dayton, Ohio; El Paso, Texas; and two towns in California have put the issue of gun control back on a front burner. It should be noted the California killer used knives, not a firearm.

In cities, states and Washington, there have been calls for restrictions on gun purchases by people whose actions demonstrate they may be threats to the public’s safety. Here in West Virginia, Delegates Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia; and John Doyle, D-Jefferson, say such a law should be enacted.

Fleischauer compares the idea to domestic violence protective orders. West Virginia should have something similar “when a judge finds that someone poses a risk of harm or violence to themselves or others.”

But the devil is in the details. What criteria would judges use to decide a person should not be permitted to buy a gun? How much discretion would they be given?

And, also to the point at hand — keeping the public safe — how much good would a “red flag” law do? How often after a tragedy, do you hear surprise expressed by those who knew the murderers best? “He’s the last person I would have thought could do something like this,” or “He seemed like such a nice guy … was never in any trouble before,” and similar sentiments pop up often enough to make the discussion on red flags very difficult.

Let us hope that as the debate over safety vs. personal liberty is renewed in West Virginia, all involved will bear in mind that concerns on both sides of the argument should be weighed carefully — and without the malice that so often accompanies any such discussion.

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