Extend the Dram Shop Acts instead of legislating Red Flag Laws

There is a far simpler solution in combatting domestic terrorists than wading into the complexities, fears, and tortuous political debate of enacting and monitoring Red Flag Laws.

Concerns over invasion of privacy, violation of extant laws, inconsistent application, and political weaponization by an already too-powerful government agency, for example, are valid and deep-seated reactions to red flag laws.

Instead of creating another political quagmire, we can utilize a tested, far less-controversial solution by expanding existing Dram Shop laws

Dram Shop laws currently exist in 43 of the 50 United States.   To varying degrees, the individual  state laws allow for civil liability to attach to certain third parties for drunk driver-caused vehicular accidents.    Moreover they complement rather than impinge on existing criminal laws for the underlying criminal act.     

Essentially, these laws allow for a victim, and/or their relatives, to sue third parties to the accident: bartenders who serve alcohol to a visibility intoxicated customer; a parent who permits underage drinking at a house party; and, others who knowingly allow an inebriated driver to drive. 

The aftermath to the recent spate of domestic mass massacres, as well as to previous attacks, all followed a dreary script.  Multiple accounts of known aberrant behavior, frequent social media-posted threats, aggressive personal relations,  botched dates, previous encounters with law enforcement, high school grapevines, open boasting of future crimes and parental a priori reporting of unheeded appeals for help were repetitively and mindlessly recounted , as we helpless, mournfully shaken bystanders  collectively pondered the inanity of the seemingly preventable tragedies.  

Also, the politicization of these horrible attacks must end.  If anyone is to blame, we all are. We can be silent bystanders no longer.  The troubled kid must be reported by teachers, friends and parents alike.  Each report must be followed by an investigation and in person interview of all suspected terrorists.   

In-the know students and casual acquaintances heretofore were reticent to report suspected fellow student terrorists. Under extended Dram Shop Acts they could be sued if they don’t.  The same civil liability will attach to informed teachers and editors, patents and extended family members, social   media followers and police who don’t follow-up reports of potential terrorists. 

We all want these horrific acts to end.  We all have responsibility to act.   In doing so, can help save the lives of countless innocent victims and eliminate the abject sorrow of their families as well.

Our criminal laws are replete with punishment for those deemed as ‘accessory to the crime’ -- the getaway driver, the straw gun purchaser,  and all who fall under aiding and abetting the individual perpetrating the criminal act.  The Dram Shop Acts are founded on the same principles. This approach, while government sanctioned through the enactment of laws, is not government-controlled or -implemented.  Rather, it provides for responsible action by the individual and a refocusing on a founding principle of government by the people.

Photo credit: David Wright

Lynne Lechter is a practicing attorney in Philadelphia, a member of the PA Republican State Committee, RJC and on the Board of the PA Future Fund. 

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