House passes red flag gun legislation in mainly party-line vote
The House passed a bill on Thursday to nationalize red flag laws, which seek to keep guns away from individuals deemed a threat to themselves and others.
The legislation, dubbed the Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order, passed in a 224-202 vote. Two Republicans did not vote.
Five Republicans — Reps. Fred Upton (Mich.), Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.) and Chris Jacobs (N.Y.) — bucked the GOP in voting for the measure, and Democratic Rep. Jared Golden (Maine) broke from the party in opposing the bill.
Passage of the measure came one day after the House cleared a sweeping gun package that, among other provisions, called for raising the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21 and banning civilian use of high-capacity magazine.
Both pieces of legislation were brought up in response to last month’s mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas.
The red flag bill — introduced by Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), whose son died by gun violence in 2012 — would authorize family members and law enforcement officers to petition U.S. district courts to issue federal extreme protection orders that would temporarily prohibit individuals from purchasing or possessing firearms.
Red flag laws already exist in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced a companion bill in 2018.
The Senate has been engaged in bipartisan gun negotiations following the pair of mass shootings, but the chamber has not yet introduced any proposals. Red flag laws, however, have emerged as a consensus point among members of both parties.
The orders can either be short-term, lasting for a maximum of 14 days and issued without a hearing, or long-term, remaining in existence for 180 days and requiring a hearing to be issued.
Petitioners must provide evidence that the individual of concern poses an imminent risk to themselves or others by purchasing, possessing or receiving firearms or ammunition. For long-term orders, petitioners must prove that the subject of the measure poses an injury risk to themselves or others through buying, possessing or receiving a firearm or ammunition.
If the court determines that an extreme risk protection order is necessary, individuals subject to the measure must surrender their firearms and ammunition, and are barred from purchasing or possessing firearms during the duration of the order.
The bill also allocates grant funding to states in an effort to bolster implementation of state extreme risk laws that are already on the books, and to urge more states to enact such measures. Additionally, the legislation requires that law enforcement is trained to safely, impartially and effectively use extreme risk protection orders.
During debate on the House floor Thursday, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) tied the legislation to the recent spate of shootings.
“Over the past several weeks we have watched in horror as gun violence has touched communities across the country and dozens of people, young and old, have lost their lives. The details of each case may differ, each tragic in its own way, but there is one theme that comes up most often: someone deeply troubled, experiencing some sort of crisis, had easy access to firearms. And all too often, the warning signs were clear but nothing was done to keep guns out of their hands before it was too late,” Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said.
The congressman argued that the legislation “provides a sensible means by which someone who is exhibiting dangerous behavior can be prevented from possessing or purchasing firearms before tragedy strikes.”
McBath on Thursday pointed to her son Jordan’s death when pushing for the red flag bill. Jordan Davis, 17, was fatally shot at a gas station in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2012 during an argument regarding the volume of music he was playing.
“We cannot be the only nation in the world where our children are torn apart on Tuesday and their deaths are gone from the news cycle by Wednesday,” McBath said on the House floor.
“And that’s why in the decade since my son was taken from me by a man with a gun simply for playing loud music in his car that I made a promise to Jordan and to my community and to the American people, a promise I will continue to fight this battle for the rest of my life. The fight to make sure that not one more parent is forced to join this ever-growing club, the club that no mother or no father ever wants to be a part of,” she added.
Republicans, however, were largely against the measure. Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) sent a memo to House GOP offices on Wednesday urging them to vote against the legislation.
His memo said the bill “uses overly broad language related to ex parte extreme risk protection orders that casts aside individuals’ rights to due process and tramples on Americans’ 2nd Amendment rights.”
GOP leadership also knocked Democrats for advancing “poorly crafted legislation focused on firearm confiscation and undermining the Constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens” rather than “working with Republicans to find common ground solutions to secure schools and address the root causes of gun violence.”
Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) objected to the bill during debate on Thursday, suggesting that the orders could be used as retaliatory measures by former spouses.
“This bill takes away due process from law-abiding citizens. Can you imagine if you had a disgruntled ex or somebody who hates you ‘cause of your political views and they go to a judge and say, ‘Oh, this person is dangerous.’ And that judge would take away your guns,” she said.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) during debate discounted the effectiveness of the red flag bill and instead pushed for measures to address mental health — a common talking point within the GOP.
“Everyone wants to stop mass public shooters, but we haven’t previously punished people merely on the basis of a hunch and we shouldn’t start now. Stopping future crimes doesn’t work in the movies and it doesn’t work in real life,” Massie said.
“What can work is providing mental health care and counseling to those who need it. If people truly pose a clear danger to themselves or others, they should be confined to a mental health facility. Simply denying them the legal right to buy a gun isn’t a serious remedy,” he added.
—Updated at 12:32 p.m.