On Wednesday, the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action — the NRA’s lobbying arm — took to NRATV with a critical announcement. The NRA-ILA called on Congress to provide funding for states to adopt so-called “risk protection orders,” another term for the gun-violence restraining order that I discussed in this piece shortly after the Parkland school massacre. You can see the announcement below:
A gun-violence restraining order (GVRO) is a remarkably simple and precisely targeted remedy for two forms of gun violence — mass shootings and suicides. As Chris Cox explains, it allows a defined group of people (usually family members, school principals, employers) to petition a local court for an order temporarily removing guns from a person who’s made statements or exhibited behavior indicating they’re a threat to themselves or others.
To be constitutional, a GVRO should require that the petitioners (those seeking the order) come forward with admissible evidence, it should grant the gun owner a prompt hearing, and it should provide a right of appeal. The best GVRO statutes will be drafted with the help and cooperation of the NRA, which will ensure that the statutes aren’t overbroad and will minimize the chances of abuse.
The NRA is shifting its position on GVROs, and I’m seeing some grumbling on gun-rights websites and message boards. These complaints are misplaced. The NRA has made a wise, principled decision that will save lives while protecting individual liberty.
To understand why the shift was necessary, it’s important to remember three critical realities. First, while overall gun violence is down, mass shootings are on the rise. Second, time and again state and federal law-enforcement bureaucracies have failed to protect the public. And third, mass shooters (and suicidal individuals) typically exhibit troubling and dangerous behavior before they fire a single fatal shot.
Responding to the mass-shooting epidemic by demanding that the FBI or any other law-enforcement agency “do better” is necessary but demonstrably inadequate. Conservatives and libertarians should understand that seeking the solution to a national problem through better-performing bureaucracies is a fool’s errand. Those bureaucracies can improve, certainly, but dangerous people will always fall through the cracks.
Moreover, we also know that the preferred progressive responses — an assault-weapons ban, for example — would serve mainly to unconstitutionally restrict the self-defense options of millions of law-abiding citizens while putting only the smallest speed bump in the path of a determined mass killer. Such a ban would also do nothing to address gun suicides — the leading cause of gun death, by far.
The GVRO, by contrast, is evidence-based, individually targeted (mass seizures would be impossible), appealable, and empowering. Rather than calling a federal tip line or leaving matters in the hands of the often-overworked, sometimes-incompetent local police, a family can bring evidence to a courthouse and have guaranteed access to a local judge. That judge can have the power to force the police to act. But that power isn’t unchecked. The gun owner can contest the claims against him, and he should be able to appeal any adverse ruling.
In other words, the GVRO — properly drafted — is the essence of constitutional conservatism. It empowers families, it provides a precise, constitutional process, and it diminishes dependence on a vast, centralized federal authority.
Yesterday, while reading a series of outraged responses to the NRA’s shift, I came across a brilliant response from an anonymous commenter. It’s too long to paste here, but the essence was simple. If you’re concerned about confiscatory gun control, the real threat to the Second Amendment isn’t a measure like the GVRO, it’s the increase in mass shootings. Each shooting exacts a terrible toll in human life. Each shooting is a shock to our political system. It’s a shock that unites a nation in grief but also divides it in rage.
I don’t pretend that the GVRO will end mass shootings, but it will stop some. And if it can stop enough to slow or reverse the spread of this horrific contagion, then it will save lives and transform the gun debate. If there is one thing we know about gun violence, it comes from “predictable people.” It’s time to give those closest to these predictable people a powerful tool to protect themselves from terrible risk.
Keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people while preserving the right to bear arms for the law-abiding is the essence of constitutional gun policy. In endorsing risk-protection orders, the NRA is serving its members, supporters, and the public well indeed.