“Minority Report”: When Movies Come True

From the Bill of Rights:

“Amendment V
No person shall… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”

“Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

 

In 2002, 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks released the Tom Cruise starrer “Minority Report”, which was based on a novella by Philip K. Dick (who’s turning out to be almost as prescient as Orwell).

The story takes place in the near future, the basic premise being that three mutant humans, known as “precogs”, have the power of precognition (foreseeing the future) when working together in concert, which gives them the ability to see murders take place before they actually happen. Based on their visions, the police have the authority to get to the scenes of the crimes and arrest the murderers before they have the chance to actually kill their victims, thereby not only being able to prosecute and imprison the offenders, but also saving the lives of the victims.

But there’s a fly in the ointment. It turns out that very occasionally a crime is foreseen for which one of the precogs sees a differing vision, that vision being the titular “minority report”, and the administrator (and inventor) of the program has kept this fact secret, as it might endanger the validity of any resulting prosecutions of the “future crimes”, and therefore the existence of his bureau. And, in fact, it turns out that innocent people have been snared by this program.

Substitute “red flag laws” for “precognition program” and we bring the plot elements of a dystopian-future movie to our current political discussions.

Red flag laws would allow the authorities to confiscate the guns owned by a person if that person is accused by someone else – and there’s a pretty broad range of acceptable accusers (real-world “precogs”) depending on the jurisdiction – of possibly being a danger to themselves or others. Based on the accusation a hearing takes place – of which the accused isn’t even notified, let alone allowed to attend and defend themselves – after which the authorities can carry out the confiscation.

This is exactly the process that takes place in the movie.

I see all kinds of problems with these laws. To begin with, the accused is being deprived of his gun rights and property (the guns) without being convicted of any crime, nor being medically diagnosed as being psychologically unsound, in clear violation of the Fifth Amendment requirement for due process.

A hearing or other legal mechanism is taking place, in secret, without the accused even being notified or allowed to attend and defend himself, in clear violation of the Sixth Amendment.

Only after his guns have been confiscated does the accused get an opportunity – at some future date which might be months down the road – to appear before some form of tribunal to make his case in defense of his rights, at which point he has to prove his innocence of the accusation, a very clear violation of the presumption of innocence upon which our criminal justice system is allegedly founded.

That raises the question of how one proves that they’re innocent of a crime they haven’t even committed, and prove that they’ll never do what others have said they “might” do. This is all very Kafkaesque.

Notice that these laws aren’t even aimed at acts that people will surely commit; only acts they might commit. I can’t think of anything that’s more speculative than that. Apparently it’s crystal ball time.

Where does this kind of thing lead? Did you ever drink too much at a party? Well, you might commit a DUI at some point in the future, so maybe we should revoke your drivers license until you can prove you won’t ever drive under the influence. Maybe take your car away just to “be safe”.

Why not? More people are killed in car accidents than are murdered by gunfire.

The reality is that anybody can accuse any other person of anything. That’s the principle reason why our judicial process requires actual proof, and the accused enjoys the presumption of being actually innocent absent that actual proof. Red flag laws turn that premise onto its head.

Further, there’s absolutely nothing that prevents people from maliciously manipulating the system with false accusations, based on a host of reasons: personal or political enmity, divorce disputes, feuding neighbors, or even simple anti-gun hysteria, just to name a few.

This entire red flag bandwagon is leading to some very bad law. It’s a case of a movie – “Minority Report” – coming true.

 

©Brian Baker 2019

(Also published today in The Signal)

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9 comments on ““Minority Report”: When Movies Come True

  1. Kathy says:

    Red flag laws are the opposite of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’

    A few states already have red flag laws and at least one report says there’s no evidence that it’s reduced crime. It’s basically more ineffective laws, created to exercise more power over the people, that the bad guys ignore.

    After the El Paso shooting, Trump was supportive of them, but he hasn’t mentioned them lately, so I hope his advisers have steered him away from the idea.

  2. CW says:

    Great post, Brian. The slippery slope is getting pretty slippery, eh?

    I grew up believing, perhaps erroneously, that it was a crime to threaten someone. Over the years I’ve wondered whether I was mistaken given that so many people seem to get away without any consequence for making threats, so I still don’t know; but if making threats is not a crime, it should be, and enforcement would go a long ways towards resolving the problem that your essay speaks to.

    When someone makes a violent threat we should be entitled to take action with very serious consequences. With sufficient proof, someone who makes threats should be committed to jail for a lengthy period of time, rendering him no longer a danger whether he owns a gun or not. Assuming it would be a felony charge, then upon release he would be barred from possessing a gun just like any other felon. No need to read someone’s mind when they tell us in their own words. I have no problem with taking harsh action against people who make threats as that behavior is entirely within a person’s own control. If you choose to make threats then you own the consequences for that. It’s very simple, and it helps us walk the fine line between enforcing the Second Amendment and protecting the sacred right to life and safety.

    I am not blanketly opposed to INTELLIGENTLY CRAFTED Red Flag laws, however, because I think there is a greater danger in the tension that is allowed to boil if people are not allowed to satisfy what they perceive to be a common sense response to impending danger. I’m quite familiar with that tension, as all conservatives are, as I have spent decade after decade dealing with feelings of intense frustration and hostility towards the Left for the untold times in which they have stood in the way of common sense with respect to the dangers of illegal immigration, crime, socialist policies – you name it. If there is CLEAR evidence that a person is harboring dark fantasies of harming one or more people AND if there is CLEAR evidence that he is gathering the weapons to do so or putting a plan in place, then at some point common sense tells us we must act. I agree that Red Flags can’t be vague or overly subjective and I believe that the accused has the right to due process, including the right to defend his rights in court, but the situation strikes me as very similar to the precautions we take with respect to air travel. We rightfully reserve the right to bar people from traveling whose background/behavior suggests that they pose too high a risk. Granted flying is not a constitutionally protected right, but it all comes back to the common sense test, IMO. People are understandably afraid, and if it seems to them that they are being deprived of taking common sense measures for their own protection, that is a force that will be hard to stop. IMO it’s better to ease the tension in way that reduces the concern while preserving due process, and we do this by taking the lead on any type of Red Flag legislation. If I were in the driver’s seat I would incorporate the Red Flag stuff under the banner of general public safety, and use it as an opportunity to satisfy OUR need for common sense protections against illegal immigration at the same time.

    • BrianR says:

      Thanks for that very detailed comment, CW. Excellent as usual.

      Out here in Commiefornia credible threats actually are criminal, under the penal code as “terroristic threats”, and are punishable by imprisonment. I think such laws lend themselves to potential abuse, because once again they’re criminalizing thought, but if they’re accompanied with supporting action — stalking, peeping, things like that — I think they have merit.

      The problem is this: how many times have you yelled at someone who cut you off in traffic with “I’m gonna kill you for that!” type verbiage? In other words, simple harmless venting. It’s pretty normal, but TECHNICALLY a violation of threat law. That’s where the danger arises in such laws. To me, they’re like “hate crime” laws, which I consider absolute travesties of justice, because until someone can actually read what’s in someone else’s mind, we have no way of knowing what’s actually going on in their noggin. That’s why “motive” isn’t an essential element of proving a crime in court. We can’t read people’s minds.

      Now, we already have laws that make “red flag” laws unnecessary and superfluous, under mental health legislation. If someone is a legitimate threat to themselves or others they can be involuntarily committed to a facility, at which point they’re subjected to an evaluation and diagnosis. Their rights are observed and honored, and if they’re diagnosed as being mentally ill they lose their gun rights as a direct consequence. That’s extant law.

      So then, why do we even need “red flag” laws? The ONLY reason I can see is that the anti-gun leftists want to, as usual, sow hysteria in an effort to further hassle gun owners and open yet another avenue to infringe on their LEGITIMATE rights, since — as I just illustrated — those laws won’t do one thing that can’t already be done under current law.

      And done PROPERLY.

      • CW says:

        I agree with you 100% on “hate crimes,” Brian. Such laws shouldn’t exist at all; however I see that as very different from the act of making a threat, which is defined as “a statement of an intention to inflict pain, injury, damage, or other hostile action on someone.” When a threat is made we are beyond the point of making assumptions about what is in someone’s mind, and the burden should not be on the rest of us to have to guess whether or not a threat is serious. It doesn’t happen by accident (like leaving a gun in your carryon, for instance). It is a willful act. I’ve never threatened anyone, even in jest or in the heat of anger, perhaps because of my longtime assumption that it could get me into trouble (it certainly isn’t because of my genteel disposition!), which IMO is proof that it can be controlled, just as joking about fire in a crowded theater or offing the POTUS can be controlled (as evidenced by the fact that such occurrences are very rare). If we started enforcing the law and imposing serious consequences with respect to threats we would take the burden off police and other Americans to make judgment calls and place the burden on people to control their mouths, which is where it should be.

        >>”…we already have laws that make “red flag” laws unnecessary and superfluous, under mental health legislation.”

        Yes, but not everyone who poses a real danger is mentally ill, technically speaking. That’s why I’m focused on the threat thing. It is one potential sign of future violence that doesn’t necessitate the added burden of proving that a person is mentally ill and, not to be annoyingly repetitive, but it is completely within the control of every individual. If a person cannot control themselves from making threats despite the potential for serious legal punishment, then IMO it’s fair to assume that they may not control themselves in other respects either.

        I think you are absolutely correct that the leftists pulling the strings have ulterior motives when it comes to guns, but the fear has spread to a lot of middle-of-the road people and if that fear is not calmed by some kind of legislative action it will be exercised at the polls in 2020. Better to calm the tensions while Trump holds the cards to control the process than to let the anger vent into 2020. Just my two cents…

      • BrianR says:

        But the thing is, CW, there’s no actual “threat” necessary in these “red flag” laws. They only require a complaint to be filed by some other person who THINKS the person MAY be “dangerous”. That’s all. A completely unsubstantiated accusation based on basically nothing at all.

        The accused doesn’t have to actually have done or said anything at all. Maybe he made a bad joke, or posted something completely innocuous to Facebook.

        There was a great illustration of this insanity just within the past week that I read about. Over the weekend a high school kid had gone shooting with his dad, and posted a picture on his Facebook page of a picture his dad had taken of him shooting a gun. His high school suspended him because they viewed that “behavior” as a “potential threat of violence”! It didn’t matter that it was an activity that took place ON THE WEKEND and had absolutely nothing at all to do with school, nor that it was perfectly legal. They suspended him.

        THAT is how these idiotic “red flag” laws will end up working.

        Is that what you want?

      • BrianR says:

        You also wrote: “… but the fear has spread to a lot of middle-of-the road people and if that fear is not calmed by some kind of legislative action it will be exercised at the polls in 2020. Better to calm the tensions while Trump holds the cards to control the process than to let the anger vent into 2020.”

        I hate to point out that that strategy is the road to defeat. In other words, give up the battle before it’s even fought.

        This old soldier was never taught to do that.

      • CW says:

        >>“[Red Flag laws] only require a complaint to be filed by some other person who THINKS the person MAY be “dangerous”. That’s all. A completely unsubstantiated accusation based on basically nothing at all.”

        I was under the impression that these potential laws were still being crafted. Needless to say I would never support something as vague and subjective as what you’ve described.

        I don’t want to enable the gun grabbers, but I sense a change in the general attitude lately. There is a limit to people’s tolerance when they perceive themselves to be sitting ducks, and we ignore that at our own peril. Clearly threatening behavior or mental instability are, IMO, fair reasons to limit access to guns. If we already have laws that accomplish this – great. In that case maybe the Red Flag laws should target those who drop the ball when the warning signs are clear.

      • BrianR says:

        Well, these red flag laws are already in place in several jurisdictions, and are what I’ve referred to in the column and our discussion. Right here in Commiefornia, for example, which I’m sure is a surprise of epic magnitude, right?

        “In that case maybe the Red Flag laws should target those who drop the ball when the warning signs are clear.” I’m not sure what you mean by that, but if you’re saying that if the authorities fail to remove guns from the possession of a prohibited person who’s been properly banned from ownership — committed a felony or been adjudged as mentally problematic, for example — then that authority (the sheriff or police chief, for example) should be prosecuted, then I could support that idea.

        Of course, again, the problem is that no system is going to work 100% of the time, but gun banners point to ANY systemic failure as a reason to condemn the entire extant system as being “not enough” and always try for ever-more restrictive measures. It almost goes without saying that their ultimate goal is to end private gun ownership.

        So, frankly, we’ve reached the point where I’ll NEVER be willing to cede one more inch, particularly since the tens of thousands of laws already on the books aren’t even reliably enforced.

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