“Even once you identify some details that many of the attackers have in common, such a large swath of the population shares these traits that the “profile” is fairly useless for prevention. Red flag laws circumvent that problem by focusing less on a type of person and more on a type of emotional and situational crisis — where the people involved aren’t necessarily “bad guys” but troubled individuals in need of help. Gill thinks of it as a public health approach, analogous to the way we treat physical health problems that are hard to profile.
“We know that raised cholesterol leads to heart problems. We don’t have the ability to predict who in the general population who already has raised cholesterol will go on to have a heart attack. So we put in place prevention policies to try to decrease cholesterol in the whole ‘at risk’ community,” he said.
For the researchers who study mass violence, what’s appealing about red flag laws is that these rules have the potential to shift the emphasis from a cut-and-dried checklist of dangerous traits to a more nuanced system that accounts for a person’s big-picture emotional state.”
“these researchers supported red flag laws because they could create a clear plan of action for friends and family concerned about a loved one’s combination of emotional crisis and violent threats. It creates a place to take concerns, a system to evaluate those concerns and a means of mitigating them. That’s particularly true, researchers said, if national red flag laws are set up so that the system isn’t punitive. Ideally, the process would focus on helping a person get through to the other side of an emotional crisis rather than putting them in jail. It’s also important, the researchers said, to make sure the laws are focused on professional evaluations of overall behavior, not checklists.”
“there’s some evidence this could work. An analysis of records from California, where one of the first red flag laws was enacted in 2016, found at least 21 cases where the laws had been used specifically because people around a person were worried about their potential to commit a mass shooting. As of 2019, none of those people had followed through on that potential. It’s impossible to know, however, how those risks would have played out if the red flag hadn’t been there.
But if those parts work together the way they should, then red flag laws really could be a useful tool for combating the segment of mass shootings that function like very public, violent suicides. “There’s an important piece when we interviewed school shooters and active threat cases,” Randazzo said. “They feel very strongly about two things: They have to carry out the violence, they have no options left, but they also don’t want to do it and hope someone will stop them.””