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Consider red flag laws

Robert Domine didn’t have to die.

The 77-year old mentally ill man was killed at his Loyal home on Sept. 13 after shooting at, and injuring, a police officer during a standoff.

Family members described Domine as being out of touch with reality, yet determined to buy a handgun. Family members have gone on record saying they knew Domine’s situation was not likely to end well.

Whatever demons Domine was battling are now buried with him. The challenge for those remaining is what is to be done to prevent the next needless death; to prevent the next officer from being shot; to prevent the horrors that fester daily on 24-hour news channels.

Gov. Tony Evers recently unveiled a proposal to institute red flag laws in the state. Under red flag laws individuals who are deemed a threat to themselves or others could have their firearms taken away. Under similar laws in place in other states, the people who may start the process include family members, law enforcement and medical providers. The process would include competency reviews and a hearing before a decision is made to take away someone’s guns.

Hardcore gun rights advocates oppose these types of legislation because they are worried that it will be too easy to take away guns and that people would be put “in the system” and identified as being a potential risk.

That type of argument is a hard sell to grieving families who wish they had the legal tools to take away guns before a tragedy happened. It is a hard sell to communities left picking up the pieces and wondering why a tragedy happened.

A civilized society is a balancing act. It is recognizing that sometimes it is necessary to limit individual freedom in order to look out for the common good. This is the reason there are speed limits and laws against theft and violence.

The inherent risk of red flag laws is that they seek to deprive gun ownership rights before something happens rather than waiting until after shots are fired. Given the track record on resurrections, it is understandable to want to err on the side of caution.

Domine’s death was as much an indictment of the gaping holes in America’s mental health system as it was about access to firearms. Care is there, if you can afford it or qualify for some program. For everyone else, there is the downward spiral self-medication, dependency, and in the case of Robert Domine, tragedy.

Just as there needs to be a discussion on common sense limits to gun ownership for those who a court finds to be a danger to themselves and others, there needs to be a real commitment to addressing the mental health crisis plaguing America.

The political reality in Wisconsin is that Evers’ proposals are dead on arrival in the state legislature. Legislative leadership cares more about playing political games than in having a grown-up discussion about firearms and lack of mental health care.

On Sept. 13, Robert Domine lost his longtime battle with schizophrenia and could have easily taken many others with him.

No action will be perfect, but action needs to take place in order to prevent the next tragedy.

Editorial from the Star News editorial board, including Brian Wilson, Carol O'Leary and Kris O'Leary.