Gun groups ready for aggressive effort against red flag legislation
No-compromise gun rights groups are preparing to mount an aggressive campaign against any red flag legislation in Congress as a response to the elementary school massacre in Uvalde, Texas.
Such measures appear to be gaining some steam as a potential compromise between Democrats and Republicans, but opponents hope to use the same playbook to stop them that proved impactful in the past.
“We’re already planning our full attack plan on it,” said Dudley Brown, president of the National Association for Gun Rights.
Nine states currently have red flag laws, protection orders that allow a court to prevent an individual deemed a danger to themselves or others from possessing or obtaining firearms. Those include New York, where it did not stop a shooter from targeting Black people at a grocery store in Buffalo last month. It is unclear if such a law would have stopped the shooter in Uvalde.
With the shock Uvalde elementary school massacre that left 19 children and two adults dead, a bipartisan group of senators formed in the days after to discuss options for a modest deal on a legislative response.
Background check expansions and provisions to expand state-level red flag laws have emerged as top options. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) previously negotiated a red flag bill in 2018.
Separately, House Democratic leadership is set to bring a bill for a vote next week to nationalize red flag laws. The legislation, led by Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), would allow federal courts to issue an “extreme risk protection order” to prohibit an individual from purchasing or possessing a firearm or ammunition and allow a family or household member or law enforcement officer to petition for such an order.
Gun rights activists argue that red flag laws violate due process rights and that the system of allowing family members or law enforcement officers to petition for such an order is ripe for abuse.
Second Amendment groups put intense pressure on House Republicans last year to oppose a red flag provision, underscoring the challenge to supporters.
A version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that passed the House last year included a provision that would allow military courts to issue protective orders that allowed confiscation of personal firearms.
The National Association for Gun Rights and Gun Owners of America, two groups that pride themselves as being uncompromising on gun legislation, started to target Republican members on the issue through social media and email blasts. The National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm was also against the measure, but not as aggressive in targeting Republicans about it. In that initial 316-113 vote, 135 Republicans were in favor of the bill.
After the NDAA vote, “congressional offices were sometimes bombarded with hundreds of calls each day from gun rights voters accusing them of being sellouts,” according to the former communications director for the late Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska).
Some Republican offices said in statements soon after the vote that they had been assured that the provision would not be included in the final version of the legislation — and it was not in the final bill that became law.
After the pushback, 161 House Republicans signed a Sept. 29 letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees urging them to strike the section, which they described as enabling “military court gun confiscation orders.”
Aidan Johnston, director of federal affairs at Gun Owners of America, called the letter “perhaps the biggest statement by Republicans” to date.
“That is important to the debate today going on over red flag laws, because now they’re firmly on the other side,” Johnston said.
It was not always that way. Former President Trump entertained red flag laws in 2019 after mass shootings in El Pasto, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
“Take the guns first, go through due process second,” Trump said at the time.
But the activism did not sit well with some Republicans.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), who was bombarded with messages on social media about his position, called out the Gun Owners of America by name when blasting “grifters” in the party, saying that they misrepresented his position on red flag laws.
Crenshaw had said in 2019, around the time that Trump was advocating for red flag laws, that lawmakers should discuss red flag laws on the state level and not the federal level. He has since opposed red flag laws.
Crenshaw reiterated on CNN over the weekend that he would not support red flag laws in the wake of the Uvalde shooting. “What you’re essentially trying to do with a red flag law is enforce the law before the law has been broken,” he said.
For the gun activists, the NDAA campaign was a win.
“This thing called a vote actually means something. And if you vote for something with that provision in it, you can’t walk that back by saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t really mean it,’” Brown, of the National Association for Gun Rights, said.
The NDAA situation highlights the political minefield for Republicans looking to take action on gun issues. Mass shootings often prompt Republicans to point to their support for legislation to boost school security or improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
“But on the flip side, they know their base is full of single-issue gun rights voters, so they can’t lean too far into their support for those bills, or else they’ll earn themselves a Newsmax hit piece or worse: a primary challenge,” Young’s former communications director said.
Despite the progress on getting Republicans on the record against red flag laws, the no-compromise activists aren’t taking anything for granted when it comes to the latest negotiations.
“We assume the worst, especially when you have a big tragedy and the leadership of your party, you know, talking about working out a bipartisan deal,” Brown said, noting his 29 years of lobbying on gun issues. “We expect every bit of a kind of fight we had right after Newtown, Connecticut.”
And for Republicans who vote for any red flag provisions, primary challengers supported by either of the gun groups are on the table — even if it is not this year.
“We play the long-term game. We don’t forget this stuff,” Brown said.