Early Saturday morning, President Joe Biden signed into law the Safer Communities Act prior to hopping a plane and heading to Munich. Biden will attend the G7 Summit while there; one of the major topics is the global food supply.
Biden made a few remarks prior to signing the bill, repeating that lives would be saved as a result of the Safer Communities Act. He also posited that the bill was a compromise, and that it did not contain everything he and the Democratic Party wanted.
Still, he insisted the legislation was a start at curbing mass shootings. “This bill doesn’t do everything I want. It does include actions I’ve long called for that are going to save lives. I know there’s much more work to do, and I’m never going to give up. This is a monumental day.”
This is the first major gun legislation to be signed into law since 1994, when the Clinton Administration was able to push through the Brady Bill.
The Safer Communities Act provides financial incentives to states to enact or strengthen red flag laws as well as strengthen background checks for those between eighteen and twenty-one when they attempt to purchase a firearm.
The bill will allow for the unveiling of previously sealed juvenile records. This measure alone could add in the length of time it takes to complete a background check on younger purchasers.
Many political pundits, however, have said that they don’t believe this legislation would have prevented the mass shootings in Buffalo, NY and in Uvalde, Texas.
Both shooters were able to purchase a firearm due to a lack of any criminal convictions on their records. However, the Buffalo shooter had been referred for a mental health evaluation in 2021. This could have triggered a red flag exception and could have prevented him from purchasing the AR-15 which he used at the Tops Grocery shooting.
New York has a red flag law established in 2019 that would prevent someone deemed to be a danger to both themselves and others as ineligible to purchase a firearm. The red flag law isn’t specific as to what the criteria might be.
Americans are concerned about the potential red flag laws that would be enacted because of the Safer Communities Act. Political pundits say that disgruntled ex-spouses, former significant others, or family members embroiled in a disagreement could falsely file “extreme protection” proceedings. There is definitely a risk for this.
In 2019, USA Today published an article titled “Red Flag Laws Invite Abuse of Power and Don’t Stop Mass Shootings,” citing a lack of uniformity in determining “what constitutes a significant danger.”
Other sources relate that red flag laws have been on the books in many states, but there’s little evidence that these laws actually curb gun violence. Both Connecticut and Indiana have red flag laws on the books as far back as 1999. However, The New York Times reported that a study by the RAND Corporation showed that the study determining whether these laws work is “inconclusive.”
Other political experts say that Congress lacks the authority to establish a national red flag law. It’s important to note that the Safer Communities Act doesn’t establish a national law, but financial incentives usually motivate states to adapt their own.
The greatest argument against red flag laws is a lack of due process, which is a Constitutional right. While gun control advocates disagree, saying those who have their weapons confiscated can always appeal the decision, some legal experts say this is a “backward process,” where a constitutionally guaranteed right is taken from a person without the presence of criminal charges.
Hand in hand with this argument is the idea that the Safer Communities Act may not put forth particular criteria by which a person is deemed a danger to themselves or others. The ACLU of Rhode Island cited a case in which a college student in Florida was handed a year long “risk protection order” due to things posted on the Reddit platform. The student in question did not own a firearm.
There are those who believe this portion of the Safer Communities Act could end up before the Supreme Court at some point in time. However, Americans will have to wait and see how each state, should it choose to create a red flag law, will craft their own legislation.