Happy Valley resident: Red-flag laws should be a bipartisan issue
The recent Oregon gubernatorial debate highlighted the division we have in Oregon surrounding firearms. Democrats are pushing for further restrictions, and Republicans seem content with a laissez-faire approach.
Partisan rancor surrounding firearms is driving people further underground in their ideological silos. This is unhealthy and detrimental to compromise.
I believe Oregon's red flag law, or Extreme Risk Protective Order, is a vital tool for government to combat gun violence. Mass shootings have become an out-of-control epidemic. Democrats are right: Thoughts and prayers don't cut it anymore. With that said, I believe our red-flag law is a civil-liberties disaster waiting to happen.
During 2003-04, I put hundreds, if not thousands, of prisoners in Abu Gharib prison when I was stationed in Ramadi, Iraq. At the time, we had little, if any, information about the terrorists who were eviscerating our troops on a daily basis. We were desperate to end the carnage. Thus, we turned almost exclusively to human intelligence. We would act on nearly every tip provided.
The informant would usually accuse a relative or neighbor of storing firearms or explosives and preparing for an imminent attack. In the middle of the night, we would kick down doors and arrest whole families, sending most of them to Abu Gharib. Maybe 10% were guilty, the rest were sent to a torture chamber based on an unsubstantiated allegation.
We were wrong to preemptively raid homes and deprive citizens of their rights and property, all based on spurious lies. But this acknowledgement of error is based on hindsight, not emotions at the time. We were desperate to end the carnage, just like gun violence today. Even though we were dancing at the edges of legality, we believed it was justified to stabilize the chaotic situation.
But history teaches us that the ends can never justify the means.
Oregon's red-flag law reminds me of Abu Gharib. The law states that relatives or partners, living inside or outside the home, can request a seizure order. They are granted the vast majority of the time. No affidavit or evidence is required of the accuser, and there are no criminal penalties for lying about the need for a seizure order. Innocent people will be swept up by disgruntled family members or partners, just like in Iraq.
I favor reform, not repeal of our red-flag law. My position is following a middle course. It's terrifying to have your home invaded when you've done nothing wrong.
My focus is on subjective allegations. I support automatic seizure for those arrested for any type of violence, or if someone is actively suicidal or homicidal, as determined by a mental health provider. These are cut-and-dried cases, not subjected to the vicissitudes of human nature.
Democrats were right to pass our red-flag law, and Republicans were right to demand real due process. This can and should be a bipartisan issue. I encourage our state representatives to both protect the law and our precious civil liberties.
Brian Fitzgerald is a Happy Valley resident.
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