In April 2014, Elliot Rodger’s mother viewed a series of disturbing, hate-filled videos that had been made by her 22-year-old son and posted on YouTube.

She called his therapist to say she was worried. He agreed and reported what he’d seen to a state mental health agency. They called the police.

Three weeks later, her son was dead, and so were seven other people on the campus of the University of California Santa Barbara who were either shot or stabbed to death by Rodger before he took his own life.

The police reported visiting the young man, and he gave them no cause to believe that he was an imminent threat to the community as a result of a mental illness. In the aftermath of what’s known as the Isla Vista killings, the California Legislature passed what’s known as a “red flag law,” which permits a judge to order someone to temporarily surrender their weapons after a petition from family members or police.

LUCKY SO FAR

Maine has been lucky in that we have not had the kind of high-profile mass killing that leads the national news. But in this state right now, there are families that are worried sick about a loved one who is troubled and potentially violent. They are terrified about what he or she might do with a gun, either to themselves or someone else. But they can’t do anything more about it than Elliot Rodger’s mother could do.

The Maine Legislature is considering its own red-flag law, which would create a community protection order that prevents high-risk individuals from possessing guns for two weeks. Maine lawmakers should not wait for a massacre here to prompt them to action.

L.D. 1884, sponsored by state Sen. Mark Dion, D-Portland, is a tool for families, police and the courts to intervene before it’s too late.

But because guns are involved, the politics of this issue are complicated. Lobbying from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and the NRA are pressuring lawmakers to replace the bill with a study commission to meet for another year before making a recommendation to the next Legislature. Some are questioning whether such a law would infringe on rights guaranteed by the state and federal constitutions.

It’s impossible to know how many, if any, lives would be saved by a Maine red-flag law, but one thing is sure: There would be no constitutional violation the way the bill is drafted.

ALL RIGHTS ARE LIMITED

Americans have the right to keep and bear arms, and in Maine, that right “shall never be questioned,” according to our constitution. But even that strong language does not make the right absolute. No one believes that a toddler should be allowed to carry a gun, or that prison inmates should be armed. What the Constitution demands is that no right can be taken away without due process. If a judge trying to prevent a crime of domestic violence can issue an order that limits where someone can go or to whom they can talk, a judge should be able to consider whether someone in the middle of a mental health crisis needs to take a break from gun ownership.

In Maine, that is more likely to be a suicidal crisis than a homicidal one.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 100 Mainers kill themselves with guns every year, which is roughly 10 times more common than gun murders. How many of those 100 families of suicide victims knew something was wrong, but couldn’t do anything to stop it?

Legislators should not kick this bill down the road by calling for another empty study. Families need this tool.

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