Should a person’s right to assemble peaceably be taken away just because her family petitioned a court complaining that the people she chooses to hang around with might get her into trouble.

Should government officials be allowed to strip a person of his first amendment right of free speech just because he, being an obnoxious loudmouth, might cry “FIRE!” in a crowded theater?

Certainly, no American would argue that the government should have the power to infringe a person’s rights solely on the basis of something they might do in the future. However, the firearm “red flag” laws currently being discussed across this nation propose doing this very thing.

What is a red flag law? Simply put, red flag laws allow government officials, law enforcement, or in some states, family members or other citizens, to petition the courts for the purpose of confiscating the firearms of persons whom they deem to be dangerous to themselves or others, or to deny such persons their right to purchase firearms.

The New York Times succinctly describes both the motivation for and the goal of red flag laws: “Hoping to prevent more mass shootings, some states have tried empowering courts to take guns away from potentially dangerous people.”[1] Notice that even the progressive New York Times does not hesitate to point out that these laws are aimed at confiscating firearms from people who only might potentially commit a crime at some point in the future. Seventeen states have already enacted some form of red flag law and others are considering doing so.[2]

The state of Virginia, for example, is currently seeking to pass several new gun restrictions.[3] Most of Virginia’s proposed restrictions are familiar ones—banning certain types of firearms and accessories which left-wing elitists find particularly frightening as well as limiting the number of handguns that a person can purchase in any 30-day period. However, Virginia’s senate also recently passed a red flag law that would allow the seizure of firearms from persons deemed to be a threat.[4] These people are not yet criminals but only potential criminals. Since when have Americans stomached this sort of infringements of their rights?

Red flag laws also pose another troubling threat to liberty—they encourage people to inform on their friends, family members, and neighbors. This brings to mind the Cold War era East German Ministry for State Security, the Stasi, which encouraged people to inform on friends, family members, and neighbors in exchange for western goods such as blue jeans and rock music. Will Americans begin turning in their neighbors just because they are in a dispute? Will children threaten to turn in their parents just because they do not like being grounded? The potential for abuse of red flag laws is significant and is a clear step along the road to tyranny.

There is a clear alternative to red flag laws—expand the National Instant Background Check to include those who have been adjudicated mentally incompetent or who have ever been committed to a mental institution. There is already a question to this effect on the form that every firearm purchaser must complete in order to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer.[5] Answering yes to this question disqualifies the purchaser.

The premise behind red flag laws is that there are certain people who are potentially a danger to society and therefore should be prohibited from possessing firearms. People who have been adjudicated as mentally incompetent or who have been committed to a mental institution are already deemed incompetent to purchase or posses firearms. If the supporters of red flag laws are concerned about public safety, let us not target people who only might be a threat to public safety but rather those who are already adjudicated as such.

The Federal Instant Background Check system already prevents convicted felons from purchasing firearms. By expanding the Instant Background Check to include those with mental issues who are already prohibited from owning firearms, then the liberties of otherwise law-abiding citizens will not be infringed.

[1], emphasis added.