Students and alumni from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, with parents and other Parkland residents demonstrate together in the March For Our Lives on March 24, 2018. Credit: rmackman via Wikimedia Commons
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Thursday passed a “red flag” gun control bill that would allow federal courts to temporarily remove a firearm from an individual who is adjudged to pose a threat to themselves or others.
In a 224-202 nearly party line vote, the House passed Georgia Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath’s bill, known as the Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Act. Five Republicans voted with Democrats, including Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan and Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio.
One Democrat voted against the bill — Jared Golden of Maine.
“We vote (today) to provide law enforcement and family members the tools that they need to prevent these mass shootings,” McBath said. Currently, the District of Columbia and 19 states have red flag laws, including Florida, and they’re meant to be used to prevent gun violence.
The legislation likely won’t get far in the evenly divided Senate, where a bipartisan group continued Thursday to negotiate compromise gun control measures. But its passage represented a years-long gun safety goal for McBath, who became an advocate after her 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, was murdered at a Florida gas station in 2012.
Jordan was shot by a white man who was angry about the loud music being played by the Black teenager and his friends.
“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,” McBath said on the House floor. “A promise that I will continue to fight this battle for the rest of my life.”
McBath recently won a primary election against Democratic colleague Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in a new congressional district after Georgia Republicans redrew the state’s congressional district map, turning McBath’s district into a Republican stronghold.
In the weeks leading up to the primary, the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety spent $1 million in TV ads promoting McBath.
McBath has said that during her time in Congress she has turned the pain of her son’s death into action. “We voted to save the lives of our children, to protect our families, and to do what is right,” McBath said in a statement.
Horrific mass shootings in recent weeks in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas have propelled the White House and Democrats to make a new push for gun control legislation, despite pessimism anything can move ahead in a polarized Congress.
On May 14, a white supremacist who had written about his belief in a racist conspiracy theory known as “the great replacement” traveled to a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo and killed 10 Black people. On May 24, a gunman at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde murdered 19 children and two teachers.
In reaction, the House on Wednesday passed 223-204 a package of eight bills relating to gun control that would raise the age of purchasing semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21, create new requirements for storing guns in a home with children, prevent gun trafficking, require all firearms to be traceable and close the loophole on bump stocks, devices that increase the rate of fire of semiautomatic weapons, among other things.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee also heard from the victims of gun violence, including survivors of the Buffalo and Uvalde mass shootings.
During the Thursday floor debate on McBath’s bill, Republican opponents argued that red flag laws were unconstitutional. McBath’s bill would authorize and establish procedures for federal courts to issue federal extreme risk protection orders, according to its description. A federal extreme risk protection would block a person from purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm or ammunition.
A family or household member, or a law enforcement officer, could petition for a federal extreme risk protection order for an individual who poses a risk to themselves or others.
GOP Reps. Debbie Lesko of Arizona and Lisa McClain of Michigan accused Democrats of taking away their guns.
“(Democrats) want to take away my right to protect my grandchildren,” Lesko said.
Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, said the bill would allow the government to take away an individual’s gun “when you didn’t commit any crime.”
Rep. Brenda Lawrence, a Michigan Democrat, said that her party had no intention of “taking away your right to own a gun, but use common sense.”
“The American people are calling on us to protect their community,” she said.
Rep. Madeline Dean, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said that Congress has a duty to intervene when someone is at risk to themselves or another.
“We do not have to live this way,” she said.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat and the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said that the bill “provides a sensible means, so that someone exhibiting dangerous behavior can be prevented from possessing or purchasing firearms before a tragedy strikes.”
He added that “every court that has considered (red flag laws) has found them constitutional.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, added that red flag laws also help prevent deaths by suicide.
“Doing so will not only protect from mass shootings but also from the quiet daily massacre by suicide and gun crimes,” Pelosi said.
Senate negotiations continue
In gun control talks in the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday morning that Democrats’ top negotiator, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, “reported the group is making good progress, and they hope to get something real done very soon.”
“As soon as the bipartisan group comes to agreement, I want to bring a measure to the floor for a vote, as quickly as possible,” Schumer said.
“The overwhelming consensus of our caucus, of gun safety advocates and of the American people is that getting something real done on gun violence is worth pursuing, even if we cannot get everything we know we need,” Schumer continued.
“The work of curing our nation of mass shootings will continue well after this debate concludes, but at this moment we have a moral obligation to try for real progress because taking tangible steps to reduce gun violence is critically important,” Schumer said.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, Republicans’ lead negotiator, said Thursday that reaching a framework by the end of this week was “aspirational,” but noted bipartisan talks will continue through the weekend.
“The great thing about everybody having text messaging is that there’s a lot of communication,” Cornyn said.
The former Senate Republican whip, who stepped down after reaching his term limit, said he’s already started thinking about how to get a large number of his GOP colleagues to vote for a possible bipartisan bill.
If all 50 Democrats back an eventual package to address guns, mental health and school safety, just 10 Republicans would need to support the measure. But Cornyn said he wants a more significant show of bipartisan support for a possible deal.
“Right now, I feel like there seems to be a critical mass of support for doing something and that’s huge because around here, sometimes people really don’t have the will to accomplish a result, but they want the issue for political purposes or the like,” Cornyn said.
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