A pair of mass shootings last weekend seem to have finally stirred congressional Republicans to begin a meaningful bipartisan debate on what can reasonably be done to address the needless carnage.
A bipartisan proposal by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, is gaining momentum following weekend shootings in Texas and Ohio that left 31 innocent victims dead.
The emerging plan would create a federal grant program to encourage states to adopt so-called “red flag” laws that would allow judges to order guns taken away from individuals believed to be dangers to themselves or to others. A similar bill was not allowed to come up for a vote last year.
In yet another significant change, President Donald Trump has signaled support for the bipartisan plan.
“We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms and that if they do those firearms can be taken through rapid due process,” Trump said in a White House speech.
Graham, chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, correctly noted that many mass shootings “involved individuals who showed signs of violent behavior that are either ignored or not followed up on. State red flag laws will provide the tools for law enforcement to do something about many of these situations before it’s too late.”
The Associated Press reported that Blumenthal, in an interview Tuesday, said there is a growing wave of support on both sides of the aisle” for the red flag plan, noting there is more momentum “than any other gun violence plan” being debated in Congress, including a proposal Blumenthal supports to require universal background check for gun purchases.
Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia have adopted various forms of red flag laws. Sadly, Iowa, where Republicans have control of the House, the Senate and the governor’s office, is not one of those states.
In general, red flag or “extreme risk protection order” laws allow courts to issue temporary orders barring someone from possession guns based on some showing of imminent danger or a risk of misuse. State laws vary, but most stipulate that only specific people — usually family, household members or law enforcement — can petition a court for an extreme risk protection order.
The orders are generally brief, ranging from a few days to about three weeks. Once the person who is alleged to pose a risk of gun violence has been given an opportunity to respond, a more permanent order may be granted, typically for up to a year.
Importantly to Graham and other supporters, some factual showing must be made that the subject of the order poses a risk of using a firearm to harm themself or others must be made before an order can be entered.
Although final plans for the proposal are still being developed, Blumenthal said the new proposal would set a national standard for red flag laws that states must meet in order to be eligible for federal grants. He compared it to federal highway laws where grants are dependent on states setting speed limits or drunk-driving standards.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, is widely considered the single biggest roadblock to changes in gun laws in Congress. While he has not publicly indicated a position on red flag laws, he said in a statement Monday that “Senate Republicans are prepared to do our part” to address gun violence.
In a statement, the National Rifle Association said it welcomes Trump’s call “to address the root causes of the horrific acts of violence that have occurred in our country. It has been the NRA’s long-standing position that those who have been adjudicated as a danger to themselves or others should not have access to firearms and should be admitted for treatment.”
We see the bipartisan congressional proposal on red flag laws as a positive step that may finally offer some hope of addressing mass shootings.