Raising Red Flags

(from sociopathlife.com)

[Ed: DRGO welcomes Dr. Dennis Petrocelli as one of us with this article . He is especially concerned with trends in his home state Virginia, which is a bell-weather purple state we should all be concerned about. And see his interview with Cam Edwards on Cam’s new gig at Bearing Arms (about 20 minutes in).]

Among the many misguided gun control proposals from Governor Northam is a so-called “Red Flag Law.” This measure may be the single greatest threat to our constitutional freedoms ever introduced in the Commonwealth of Virginia. His red flag law would give the Commonwealth power to remove a person’s firearms without any evidence a person is suffering from a prohibiting condition such as mental illness, drug addiction or criminality.

Under the Northam bill, the Commonwealth could simply claim a person is dangerous without any guidelines for defining what that means or in what time frame the person poses a risk. In other words, the Northam red flag law would create a gun control free-for-all.

Should this pass, I foresee law enforcement officers asking local judges to take away peoples’ guns with this claim: “Your Honor, this person bought five semiautomatic handguns in the past month and 3,000 rounds of ammunition.  We are of the opinion that this behavior comports with a substantial risk of harm in the near future by way of firearms.” 

The Northam-supported bill, HB 4003, does not define what is meant by “near future.”  Generally speaking the legal term “imminent threat of harm” is limited to 24-72 hours. The term “near future” is not defined and could extend far beyond 72 hours.

As a Virginian and a clinical psychiatrist practicing in this field for nearly 20 years, I can assure you that no one can reasonably predict behavior beyond 72 hours. No one can assert with certainty that someone will be violent beyond 72 hours. Risk assessments beyond that, absent a well-known and documented history of past violence, calls for guesswork and speculation.

Based on what I heard at Northam’s gun control town hall meeting in Hampton, I am convinced that the governor and his allies in the state legislature are disingenuous at best and cannot be negotiated with. When asked at the public forum why the bill didn’t restrict more firearms, Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran said, “Well, as we say in Boston, there is always next year.” 

Moran clearly committed a political gaffe with his answer (that’s when a politician tells the truth, an obvious truth he wasn’t supposed to say. Clearly, gun control advocates in Virginia aren’t going to stop with their current gun control schemes–these are just the start.

The Northam red flag bill opens the door to gun confiscation based upon vague allegations of risk with no basis in medical science. Rather than seek to modify the current red flag proposal in the legislature by trying to include due process protections, Virginians need to know about two legal means already in place to prevent violence.  The first is the Emergency Custody Order/Temporary Detention Order (ECO/TDO) process.  If a person is involuntary committed after a full hearing, his/her Second Amendment rights are curtailed until a court restores them. 

The second option is that if when a person engages in criminally dangerous conduct, that conduct needs to be pursued by law enforcement. Criminal conviction and terms of probation already can include firearms removal. 

When a coworker, friend, neighbor, or family member engages in behavior that is of concern, it is imperative to alert a supervisor if relevant and go to local law enforcement for directions on how to file a petition with the local magistrate to initiate either the mental health assessment or the criminal justice process. Constitutional legal process works when it is activated by concerned and conscientious citizens acting in good faith for the good of the community.

We can all agree that those who are dangerously mentally ill and pose a risk to themselves or others should not have access to firearms. But red flag laws do an end-run around the Constitution and pose what could be the greatest threat to our freedoms ever faced in the Commonwealth of Virginia. 



–Dennis Petrocelli, MD is a clinical and forensic psychiatrist who has practiced for nearly 20 years in Virginia. He took up shooting in 2019 for mind-body training and self-defense, and is joining the fight for Virginians’ gun rights.

All DRGO articles by Dennis Petrocelli, MD