I was taught during my medical training that “it is always better to put a guardrail at the top of a cliff than to park ambulances underneath it.” Prevention or early intervention to avoid a bad or even fatal medical or surgical outcome whenever possible is unquestionably a wise choice. And so is preventive action that could forestall a firearm-related injury or death.

The well-researched recent Associated Press story regarding the increasing number of states that have passed so-called “red-flag” laws (“States pass seizure laws to solve gun problem,” Feb. 10) describes a common-sense but long-overdue approach to the national epidemic of gun-related homicides and suicides. The piece lists over a dozen states that have passed legislation allowing law enforcement personnel and/or courts to remove weapons from individuals who have threatened suicide and now seem at high risk of death by suicide; who have threatened to shoot others, or who have stalked someone. Police themselves or family or concerned friends may initiate such a removal. Simply having a mental illness, unless there is recent evidence of deterioration posing an imminent threat to oneself or others, would not be sufficient grounds for permanently or even temporarily confiscating a weapon.

“Red-flag” laws typically specify the time period of the confiscation, and prescribe a careful review process by which the gun owner may petition the court to have their weapon(s) safely returned. An evaluation by a psychiatrist or other competent mental health professional trained in risk assessment should routinely precede any return of a weapon to its owner.

Researchers cited in the AP article examined outcomes of one of the longest standing “red-flag” laws (in effect since 1999 in Connecticut). That study has documented a reduction in the state’s gun-suicide rate of over 10 percent. Indiana, which has a similar law, has seen a 7.5 percent drop in the rate of gun suicides. It is harder to estimate the frightening numbers of gun injuries and fatalities that may have been prevented at schools or other venues when the weapons of threatening would-be shooters have been temporarily taken from them.

It is likely that most or all of those who loudly protest about any or all supposed violations of their Second Amendment rights have not actually read the Supreme Court’s ruling in a 2008 landmark case, Heller v. District of Columbia. At issue was whether the right to bear arms refers to citizens and not only to militias. The majority opinion was written by Antonin Scalia, arguably the most conservative justice on the court at the time. Although the language of this Second Amendment decision was interpreted to mean that firearms could be kept in citizens’ homes, nevertheless, Scalia cautioned that some reasonable gun control measures were appropriate.

Justice Scalia may have been looking to the original language of the framers of the Constitution at a time when muskets fired just one (often inaccurate) shot, and took some time to reload. What further language about reasonable controls might Scalia have added to his opinion if he lived to hear of the Las Vegas massacre, involving a “bump stock”-equipped AR-15 (in essence a machine gun)? Or had he lived to hear of the slaughter of children in Parkland? Would he have thought it reasonable to allow individuals the right of concealed carry without actually registering with police?

As a lifelong hunter and gun owner and retired psychiatrist, I fervently hope it will not take a school shooting here in Maine or even another domestic violence murder-suicide to persuade our legislators to follow the example of the 14 other states which have enacted successful and reasonable laws to remove firearms from those at imminent risk of harming themselves or others. If and when a “red-flag” bill emerges this legislative session, I hope that many other thoughtful sportsmen and gun owners will join me in strongly endorsing it with written or spoken testimony.

James Maier is a retired doctor who lives in Falmouth.


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