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Port: What would a 'red flag law' gun rights proponents could support look like?

North Dakota's lawmakers have defeated a "red flag law" bill before, and not without good reason, but could there be a way to craft such a law that brings gun rights proponents and gun control advocates together?

School Shooting At Robb Elementary In Uvalde, Texas
A woman stands in front of crosses with the names of victims of a school shooting, at a memorial outside Robb Elementary school, after a gunman killed nineteen children and two teachers, in Uvalde, Texas, on May 26, 2022.
Marco Bello / Reuters
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MINOT, N.D. — During the 2019 legislative session, state Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, a Democrat from Fargo, introduced an iteration of the "red flag law" that's much in the news of late after the horrific slaughter in Uvalde, Texas.

Despite bipartisan sponsorship, the bill didn't get far. It died early in the session on a 17-76 vote in the House . In part because gun rights supporters such as myself were immediately critical of it.

There were significant problems in the bill, but I wish now that, instead of killing it, the bill had been amended into something workable, that provides an avenue to get guns out of the hands of people who are mentally ill while simultaneously protecting our gun rights.

But that's water under the bridge. There's no need to re-litigate the past. Another legislative session looms, just after the election, providing a new opportunity to get something done.

What would a "red flag bill" that can thread the needle between gun control and gun rights proponents look like? Let's talk about it.

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But first, those entering this debate must check their emotions at the door. The Second Amendment crowd should understand that a "red flag law" doesn't have to be a gun grab. This sort of legislation focuses on mental health and not guns, which is exactly the sort of thing we've been arguing for every time gun violence makes headlines.

Guns don't kill people, people kill people, or so we say. It's time to put action behind those words.

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For the gun control crowd, you must remember that, like it or not, gun rights are civil rights. Not only enshrined, unambiguously, in the constitution but held close to the hearts of millions upon millions of Americans. Treating that cavalierly is a good way to lose yet another debate about gun laws.

What would a workable bill look like?

It needs to be a process that's accessible. One common trait of mass shooters is that they often displayed signs of serious mental illness that nobody reported. The Uvalde shooter slashed himself in the face and made threats of shooting up a school.

Laws are futile if nobody uses them.

The law also needs to be robust in its protections for gun rights. If it allows a person's guns to be snatched until they defend themselves in a court hearing, at their own expense, we're doing it wrong.

Finally, for those who do lose access to their guns through this process, we need to provide a path back to sound mental health and the right to keep guns. You'd think that would be a feature of these laws, but it's not. In the 19 states that already have these laws, all they do is remove the gun rights. There are no provisions for follow-up care.

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The goal of this process ultimately should be a restoration of rights, if possible, not just a denial of them.

A bill built on this outline has a good shot of becoming law. Even in gun-happy North Dakota.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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