Gun restrictions tend to fail – or run afoul of the Constitution – when they indiscriminately target good guys along with bad guys. Good regulations zero in on irresponsible and dangerous people, not the vast majority of gun-owners who don’t threaten others.
State Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, has just filed a well-aimed bill. It would let police officers and fearful family members seek “extreme risk protection orders” to disarm angry or unbalanced individuals who could be on the verge of explosion.
If a judge issues the order, Mr. Anger Issues could have his deadly weapons confiscated for 14 days pending a court hearing. If the hearing shows him to be a clear and present danger, he could be barred from possessing weapons for a year.
Confiscating weapons is serious business in light of the Second Amendment and the Washington Constitution’s more explicit guarantee of the right to bear arms. But no constitutional right is unlimited, and Jinkins’ bill is tailored to ensure that guns (or knives) aren’t taken away from people on flimsy pretexts.
For example, a mother could petition the court to have her son’s guns taken away under the law. But she would have to describe his threatening behavior under oath; lying would be a misdemeanor.
The bill is also designed to protect gun owners guilty of nothing more than feuding with their neighbors or rubbing someone the wrong way. Only immediate family members and law enforcement officers could seek the orders. Before granting them, judges would have to consider specific behavior, including:
• Recent threats of violence or acts of violence.
• Violations of restraining orders.
• Past convictions for domestic violence.
• Reckless use or brandishing of firearms.
• A history of physical threats against others.
• Prior felony arrests.
• Alcohol or drug abuse.
• Recent firearms purchases.
This might be termed the Aaron Rey Ybarra Law. Last June, Ybarra showed up at Seattle Pacific University in Seattle intending to massacre students with a shotgun. He killed one student, wounded two others and might have done much worse if he hadn’t been jumped by a young building monitor.
It turned out that Ybarra had a history of angry behavior, substance abuse, psychosis and involuntary psychiatric care; at one point, he’d told police that he “had a rage” and wanted to hurt people.
But none of this prevented him from lawfully possessing the shotgun he brought to SPU. Even the involuntary commitment didn’t count: It hadn’t lasted 14 days, the threshold for firearms restrictions under Washington law.
Had Jinkins’ bill been law at the time, there might have been multiple opportunities for a judge to take Ybarra’s weapons away prior to the attempted mass murder.
That may or may not have stopped Ybarra, but he is only one of many angry, threatening people entitled to firearms because they haven’t been convicted of felonies or committed to long-term psychiatric treatment.
When one of them erupts in rage, his loved ones shouldn’t have to stand by helplessly, hoping he’ll come to his senses before reaching for the trigger.