Several Republican members of the West Virginia House of Delegates are raising a red flag over “red flag” laws.
The debate started nationally following the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton when President Trump got behind the idea.
“We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms and that if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process,” Trump said Monday morning. “That is why I have called for red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders.”
The idea has gotten serious discussion at the annual summit of the National Conference of States Legislatures going on now in Nashville. Wednesday, Democratic House of Delegates members Barbara Evans Fleischauer and John Doyle issued a joint release in support of such a law.
“We are used to the idea of a domestic violence protection order,” Fleischauer said. “Extreme risk protection orders would allow a similar protection when a judge finds that someone poses a risk of harm to themselves or others.”
Less than 24 hours later, a group of House Republicans went on record opposing the move. “Legislators calling for ‘red flag’ laws are preying upon the fear generated by the actions of madmen that would carry out their acts regardless of any laws this State would enact,” they said in their release.
“The recognition and protection of the most basic natural right—the right of self-defense—is enshrined in the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution and in Article III, Section 22 of the Constitution of West Virginia,” said the 27 House Republicans who put their names on the release.
However, John Taylor, a constitutional law professor at WVU, said on Talkline Thursday that based on his research, red flag laws do not violate the right to keep and bear arms, and he found no instance where such laws have been overturned by the courts.
The Legislature won’t be in regular session until January 2020 and it’s unknown whether a “red flag” bill would even be introduced, but history suggests any such legislation would be a longshot.
West Virginia is a strong pro-gun state. Law-abiding adults can carry a gun openly and are not required to have a license to carry a concealed weapon. Earlier this year the Legislature did reject a bill that would have allowed individuals to carry guns on college campuses, but that was a rare legislative exception.
The statehouse observers I talked with wouldn’t give “red flag” much of a chance. One Republican leader, who did not sign on to the release, said while such a law sounds reasonable, the GOP majorities in both chambers would be unlikely to support it.
Another told me that since Fleischauer and Doyle are among the most liberal members of the legislature, conservative Republicans would automatically have an opposite position.
West Virginia is a Trump state. Morning Consult’s tracking poll has his approval rating at 57 percent here. But when it comes to guns, it’s doubtful even Trump could get a ‘red flag’ law passed in West Virginia.