Red Flag Law is a Small Step Towards Safety

On Aug. 3, 2019, 21 year-old Patrick Crusius opened fired in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people and injuring 20 others. Authorities believe Crusius is the author of a 2,300-word anti-immigrant manifesto that was posted to the online message board 8chan just 19 minutes before the mass shooting. The four-page document talked about a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Besides this known fact, police found no other prior criminal record or signs of mental illness from his past to predict that he could’ve done this.

On Aug. 4, 2019, 24-year-old Connor Stephen Betts opened fire on a crowded street in Dayton, Ohio, killing nine people and wounding 27 others. It took him 32 seconds, with a .223 caliber high capacity rifle with 100-round drum magazines. Betts had no prior criminal record except minor traffic violations and no documented mental illnesses. The police officers investigating the crime stated that nothing in the suspect’s record would have prevented him from purchasing firearms. 

Classmates of Betts at Bellbrook High School said he was suspended twice for compiling a “hit list” and a “rape list.” Classmates explained that he often threatened violence, and he enjoyed making people feel scared. Betts had connections to various online “incel” groups which acted as radicalizing tools that highlighted his violent ideations.

Betts displayed a pattern of behavior to various people around him dating back as far as 10 years, and made many people feel unsafe. However, these people lacked the resources and measures needed to protect themselves and others.

States all across the country, including New York, are introducing a new bill called the “Extreme Risk Protection Order” law, known colloquially as a “Red Flag” law, which would aim to prevent those suffering from mental illnesses or those where it is evident that they may be a danger to themselves or others “from purchasing, possessing or attempting to purchase or possess a firearm, rifle or shotgun.”

We at the New Paltz Oracle admire the efforts made by New York State, but we do not agree with the length of time that was taken to consider the brutal loss of life that is not merely a result of suspected or diagnosed mental illnesses, but also of the wrongly justified access to guns at everyone’s disposal that often encourage premeditated acts of mass murder and violence.

While mass shootings are a pervasive crisis all across the country, the problem of gun violence rears its head even in our own backyard. On June 1, Jeremy Kaartine fatally shot his father in a New Paltz parking lot with a legally purchased weapon. Kaartine was issued his own pistol permit by a state Supreme Court justice regardless of an objection from the Sheriff’s office due to his history of domestic disputes. Had the “Red Flag” law been in place at the time of this incident or in the weeks prior, the Sheriff’s Office could’ve made a real difference. 

We at the Oracle believe that gun reform needs to start happening here and now, and the best way to begin is at a local level. While this law is a step in the right direction, it easily adds to the stigmatization of mentally ill people and doesn’t fully protect people from stopping potential threats. 

While many cases of shootings do have mental illness as a root issue for the perpetrator, violent crimes, including shootings, would likely still occur even if every suspect with a mental health condition was stopped before their attack.

According to the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, “even if the elevated risk of violence in people with mental illness is reduced to the average risk in those without mental illness, an estimated 96% of the violence that currently occurs in the general population would continue to occur. Only a small proportion of the societal violence can be attributed to persons suffering from mental disorders.”

We need to address the healthcare problems that arise in regards to mental illness and help those in our communities who could be susceptible to violence due to their illnesses, but that will not get guns out of the hands of people set on this type of destruction. According to a 2018 FBI report, 40% of all firearms used in mass shootings were purchased legally, and 35% of them were already purchased prior to the incident. 

In regards to the El Paso shooter, police could not find sufficient evidence to prevent Crusius from obtaining a firearm. Family and friends had little insight to his aggressive thoughts, and his social media did not indicate that he may have had such vicious tendencies. People did not describe him as having verbalized violent ideations or opinions, so this law would do little to prevent him from acting out his fantasies. 

This law has holes that need to be plugged. Not all mass shooters or people who buy guns for life-threatening purposes demonstrate their brutal tendencies out in the open. However, they still need to be checked, regulated and stopped.

By introducing a law with language that could stigmatize vulnerable individuals in our communities as violent threats, it deters us from getting to the root of the problem— poorly regulated access to guns.