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Plan To Boost 'Red Flag' Gun Laws Gains Momentum in Congress

A bipartisan gun control proposal by Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, is gaining momentum following weekend mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.

The still-emerging plan would create a federal grant program to encourage states to adopt “red flag” laws to take guns away from people believed to be a danger to themselves or others.

A similar bill was introduced and never came up for a vote in the GOP-controlled Senate last year, but members of both parties express hope that this year will be different. Even President Donald Trump has signaled support for the 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 Monday.

Many mass shootings “involved individuals who showed signs of violent behavior that are either ignored or not followed up on,” said Graham, chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee. “State red flag laws will provide the tools for law enforcement to do something about many of these situations before it’s too late.”

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In an interview Tuesday, Blumenthal said there’s “a growing wave of support on both sides of the aisle” for the red-flag plan — more momentum in fact “than any other gun violence plan” being debated in Congress, including a proposal Blumenthal supports to require universal background checks for gun purchases.

Here is a closer look at red flag laws, which have been adopted by at least 15 states and the District of Columbia:

How Does a Red Flag Law Work?

In general, red flag or “extreme risk protection order” laws allow courts to issue temporary orders stripping citizens of their right to possess guns based on indicators of imminent danger or a risk of misuse.

Do you think Congress should be introducing this type of legislation in light of recent tragedies?

State laws vary, but most stipulate that only specific people — usually family or household members — may petition a court for an extreme risk protection order.

In some cases, however, a preliminary order may be granted without any notice being given to the subject of the flagging.

The individual is then notified and forced to provide evidence contrary, before the order is either upheld — for up to one year — or rejected.

Graham, and a variety of other supporters, have suggested that they will only approve the legislation if, before an order is entered, some factual showing must be made that the subject of the order poses a risk of using a firearm to harm themselves or others.

What is the Federal Proposal?

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Graham and Blumenthal are still developing the plan but, similar to a bill proposed last year by Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, this legislation would pay states to implement red flag law programs. A bid last year by Graham and Blumenthal to let federal courts keep guns away from people who show warning signs of violence failed to generate political support.

Blumenthal called the failed effort to create a federal program a learning experience and said the new proposal would set a national standard 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.

“If you have speed limits, you get the money,” he said, adding that the red flag law would operate on the same principle.

How Much Would It Cost?

Costs have yet to be determined but, whatever the amount, Blumenthal argues “it’s a small fraction of the losses — both monetary and in the loss of life — as a result of gun violence.”

Who Supports the Plan?

Nearly all Senate Democrats support red flag laws, along with a growing number of Republicans, including Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, Indiana’s Mike Braun and Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, a former Judiciary chairman.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, told reporters Tuesday he is open to the proposal, noting that the alleged shooter in Dayton, Ohio, had so-called kill lists of intended targets.

“Clearly people knew something was wrong with this guy, and yet nobody went to the proper authorities or the proper authorities didn’t respond,” Portman said.

A red flag law, he added, may “bridge this issue of the guns and the mental health issue, where you identify somebody who has a mental health history that might not be formally diagnosed, but that people know about.

Where Does Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Stand?

The Kentucky Republican, who has adopted the nickname the “Grim Reaper” to celebrate his success at blocking Democratic bills, is likely to be the staunchest defender of firearm rights as the gun control debate heats back up.

McConnell has not publicly indicated a position on red flag laws but said Monday that “Senate Republicans are prepared to do our part” to address gun violence.

McConnell also said he has spoken with Graham and other committee chairs and asked them to consider “potential solutions to help protect our communities without infringing on Americans’ constitutional rights.”

Congress passed a measure last year to shore up the federal background checks system and approved a grant program to prevent school violence — signs that action on gun violence is possible, McConnell said.

Where Does the NRA Stand?

A National Rifle Association spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, the group 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.”

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