On Tuesday evening, the Senate passed a procedural vote to further to passage of a bipartisan gun control bill in the wake of multiple mass shootings, particularly the Uvalde school shooting at Robb Elementary in late May. The eighty page bill was advanced by a 64 – 34 vote, and finally passage could come by the end of the week.
The bill was voted on a mere two hours after a bill text had been released. Titled “The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act,” the bill focuses on mental health, firearm procurement, and “other matters.” Medicaid and telehealth are discussed in the first few pages of the bill, with an emphasis on offering this type of treatment to those receiving CHIP benefits. The bill goes on to amend part of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act by adding requirements to individuals under the age of 21 who wish to purchase a firearm (the background check would include any juvenile criminal records for consideration). The bill also provides new penalties for “straw” purchases of firearms, and it addresses those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence charges.
Many have associated the bill with red flag laws. There are Americans who believe that red flag laws are often a slippery slope, as they tend to skirt due process. On Twitter, a thread on Wednesday morning addressed the possibility of disgruntled individuals simply making a complaint, then seeing a person’s firearms absconded due to the complaint.
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), who is a leading Republican working on the bill, says that there are no red flag laws in the bill, only that the bill provides for grants in states that would enact red flag laws.
Opponents of red flag laws cite a Maryland man who was fatally shot in 2018 when police officers arrived at the man’s home to collect any guns from the home. The Ferndale, Maryland man was 61-year-old Gary Willis. Officers were sent to the Willis home, but it is unclear why the extreme risk order was granted in regards to Willis. A FOIA request would later show that the day before the officers arrived to confiscate his firearms, Willis had been the subject of a family dispute.
Willis lived in an apartment over a family residence with his wife. His mother owned the home, and Willis brother and sister lived in the main house with their mother. Allegedly, Willis and his sister had had multiple disagreements about the care of their elderly mother. Willis allegedly had been drinking when he threatened his sister the day before the extreme risk order was served.
In Maryland, family members, legal guardians, spouses or even one a person is co-habitating with may file an “extreme risk protection” order. These orders must be approved by a commissioner, and the confiscation of weapons is intended to be temporary.
Willis’ death is the only Maryland fatality associated with the extreme protection, or red flag, laws. The officers were cleared of any wrongdoing because Willis not only met the officers at the door with a handgun, but he refused their order to hand over the weapon.
At the same time, there are many who say red flag laws save lives. One case is that of a Pasadena, CA man who made a verbal threat against his workplace. He was investigated under red flag laws, where a SWAT team went to serve an extreme risk order and found nearly 200 guns. The man’s father, who also lived in the home, said the guns belonged to him and that he was a collector.
Still, many Texans in attendance at a GOP event this weekend booed Senator Cornyn when he spoke, apparently in response to his work on the bipartisan bill.
Many Republicans are calling for a hardening of schools and the possibility of arming teachers in order to protect students in the event of a shooting. Many have pointed out that since schools have a zero tolerance policy in regards to guns, this makes schoolchildren a perfect soft target for those who would carry out a mass shooting.
The bill was being voted on about the same time it was revealed that there were multiple issues with the way Uvalde officers responded to the shooting.