New Paper Suggests ‘Red Flag’ Laws Will Discriminate Against People of Color

Gun control groups like Moms Demand Action have staunchly supported red flag laws. (Photo: Everytown for Gun Safety Facebook)

A new paper published this week in Injury Epidemiology suggests that extreme risk protection order (ERPO) laws – otherwise known as red flag laws – will discriminate disproportionately against people of color.

The paper’s author, Duke sociologist Jeffrey W. Swanson, argues that saving lives shouldn’t be the only metric in determining whether or not red flag laws constitute good public policy.

“Is it possible that implicit racial bias could infect ERPO petitions, the court’s decisions to grant them, or the behavior of the police in carrying them out? If that turned out to be true, how might it recast the evidence that ERPOs save lives?” he asks.

Swanson is careful to point out that not enough data has been collected on red flag laws to form any definitive conclusion, but he nonetheless cites a red flag study from Seattle that found black people were overrepresented in gun removal orders by a factor of nearly 2 to 1 compared to their share of the county population (12.0% vs. 6.9%).

While white people were also overrepresented (74.7% vs. 66.9%), the disparity in the black community was proportionally much greater.

SEE ALSO: Virginia Uses Red Flag Law for the First Time to Confiscate Firearms

He also cited a study he had conducted in Marion County, Indiana, that found that a significantly higher percentage of nonwhite individuals failed to appear at a scheduled court hearing to seek the return of their guns, and thus lost their guns by default (63% vs. 51%; p < 0.05).

Swanson is no gun rights proponent. He worries at one point in the paper that right-wing politicians will use his findings to discredit red flag laws, which he believes save lives.

Still, he notes the racist roots of gun control laws in the United States and urges readers to stop oversimplifying the gun control debate by considering the “complex social pathologies around gun violence.”

“The history of gun control laws in the United States (as with the history of every other social institution in this country) is intertwined with a legacy of white supremacy and racial injustice,” he says. “A century later, national surveys still find a substantial difference between racial groups in gun ownership and access, with about half of white respondents but only one third of black respondents reporting gun access at home.”

SEE ALSO: A Single Florida County Seized 412 Guns Last Year Under the State’s Red Flag Law

Swanson explains this disparity, in part, by citing a 1919 may-issue pistol permit requirement in North Carolina. The law allowed any county sheriff to deny a permit to a person he deemed not to have “good moral character,” which calls to mind today’s version of may-issue schemes that require “good cause.”

It’s doubtful that gun control advocates will halt their pursuit of red flag laws even if they are racially discriminatory. Swanson himself hypothesizes that red flag laws could “save many young black lives” even as they discriminate against them.

But at least someone is asking the question.

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About the author: Jordan Michaels has been reviewing firearm-related products for over four years and enjoying them for much longer. With family in Canada, he’s seen first hand how quickly the right to self-defense can be stripped from law-abiding citizens. He escaped that statist paradise at a young age, married a sixth-generation Texan, and currently lives in Waco. Follow him on Instagram @bornforgoodluck and email him at jordan@gunsamerica.com.

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Mark Johnson August 17, 2020, 10:52 am

    Not every thing has to be in proportion to black/white percentage of population. Do we get to file a lawsuit against a race because their murder rate is huge compared to their population? Is this *any* kind of justice?

  • Walt August 17, 2020, 9:16 am

    I’ve been a criminal defense attorney for over 40 years. It’s no surprise to me that these laws would be used to disarm minorities. Here in Michigan we became a “shall issue” state in 2001. Before that I never encountered a black person with a CPL. Since then I’ve seen more and more of them. And you know, they are no more likely to commit gun crimes than the rest of us. Based on enforcement of every other law I’ve seen I have no doubt who red flag laws are directed against.
    A.) minorities
    B.) guys getting divorced.

  • GMan August 17, 2020, 5:40 am

    What a surprise. A gun law that discriminates unfairly against black people. What’s that now two hundred years in a row?

  • Thomas August 16, 2020, 1:05 am

    Red is the right word communist inspired rules to deprive people of their freedom and make them subjects instead of citizens.

  • DonM August 14, 2020, 5:47 pm

    Red Flag laws are a clear and present violation of the 4th Amendment.

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effect, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall be issued, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the persons places and things to be searched, or to be seized.

    Being that the violation of the 4 Amendment pertains to the 2nd Amendment, by definition of weapons/fire arms, being covered under the 2nd Amendment, a protected right. There should be a strenuous requirement for some indisputable evidence that would preclude a persons mental or civil fitness to possess a weapon would pose a legitimate risk to society. Especially considering that the 2nd Amendment is designed to preserve a persons ability to defend themselves from a significant threat to life, limb or home.

    We The People Had Better Quit Sitting On Our Hands, And Start writing and complaining to our lawmakers when they make law that is a clear violation of our God Given Rights Under The Constitution.

    There are evil people that are determined to erode our rights if we aren’t diligent in defending them.

  • Johnny Tremain August 14, 2020, 1:24 pm

    Hopefully Trump will read this and back off the “red flags”

  • Buck August 14, 2020, 11:34 am

    Yes, we put up with a lot of abhorrent actions by individuals in this country. It’s the price we pay for the Liberty we have that extends to self defense. I’d like to see a study collating these atrocities by people in our Country from societies that aren’t as open as ours and others that have succumbed to foreign political ideologies.

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