Why ‘red flag’ laws are more dangerous than you think


This month’s shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, have politicians once again demanding the ability to violate our constitutional rights.

What is their “solution” this time? So-called “red flag” laws — a direct violation of multiple constitutional rights that would allow the government to seize a person’s property by force, following nothing more than an anonymous accusation. This fundamentally changes our system from “innocent until proven guilty” to “guilty until proven innocent.” It is fundamentally and unacceptably un-American.

Even worse than other forms of gun control, red flag laws don’t just violate the Second Amendment; they also violate the Fourth Amendment, the  Fifth Amendment and the Sixth Amendment.

I understand the sincerity of those wanting real solutions to these senseless atrocities. I do as well (and have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t). But the American people should never surrender their constitutional rights to tackle a criminal problem.

The rights and liberties enshrined in these amendments to the U.S. Constitution weren’t just invented in 1791 with the Bill of Rights. They didn’t just spring up by magic. For more than 800 years — even before Magna Carta — men and women have fought to protect and codify our precious freedoms. See what happens when you ask a Russian, a Venezuelan, a Zimbabwean, a Saudi, or even (sadly) a Brit about the right to bear arms, due process, or the right to a trial by jury.

Unlike other societies, “take the guns first, go through due process second” has never been the American way. Red flag laws turn our legal tradition upside down. “Guilty until proven innocent” is a hallmark of the worst totalitarian societies and banana republics, not America. Ironically, the Second Amendment exists to protect the American people from just these things: tyrants who would tear their basic rights away from them.

For months, I’ve been hearing the TV talking heads tell us that we are living under a neo-Nazi regime that is erecting concentration camps all over the country. Just this month, an MSNBC anchor (and former employee of John McCain) told Americans that the current president was bent on “exterminating Latinos.”

Obviously, I don’t believe these ridiculous claims about our president or America. But here’s the thing: Many of the loudest voices who demand gun control do make these claims. If these things were true, should we really be expected to give up our Second Amendment and due process rights to marauding Nazis? Please.

I have five children. I value their safety just as much as supporters of red flag do. We all do (which may be the only thing all Americans share in common right now). But the answer isn’t decimating the Bill of Rights. Once our rights are gone, they are not coming back.

• Shae Sortwell is a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly, where he represents the people of Wisconsin’s 2nd Assembly District.

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