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'Red Flag' Gun Laws Gain Support After String of Mass Shootings

06-08-2022
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A bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill is developing new gun policies following last month's mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 children and two teachers.   

Considering this and other recent shootings nationwide, Democrats want stronger gun control measures. They also appear to have found rare common ground with some Republicans.  

Republicans have generally rejected stricter gun control proposals, while Democrats have championed them. With the shock of Uvalde still fresh, however, some senators from both parties are hoping for agreement on a legislative response. It includes incentives for states that pass red-flag laws.   

The charge is led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D) of Connecticut and Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas. 

A Red Flag law would permit police, family members, medical professionals, and others to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from someone believed to be a danger to themselves or others. 

According to a recent Justice Department report, people who commit mass shootings are "nearly always in a state of crisis" at the time of the attack and often leak their plans.    

"We know 80% of mass shooters broadcast their intentions in advance. They tell people they know, or they talk trash on the internet. The opportunity is if you see something say something," said Garen Wintemute, a gun violence expert at UC Davis Health. 

Red Flag laws already exist in 19 states. Most of those passed after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. The state has used the protective order nearly 9,000 times since then. 

Unlike most gun measures, more Republicans appear open to red flag laws. 

"I've never been part of negotiations as serious as these. There are more Republicans at the table than at any time since Sandy Hook," said Murphy.   

In 2019, former President Trump pushed them following shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. 

Red Flag laws have become an increasingly effective tool in preventing these shootings, as well as suicides and deadly domestic violence. 

Experts agree, however, they're not foolproof. New York's law did not stop a shooter from killing 10 people at a Buffalo grocery store last month. Nor, some insist, would it have stopped the Uvalde school shooter. 

Donell Harvin, a senior policy analyst at Rand Corporation, says a federal gun registry would help keep people from falling through the cracks. 

"If one state has a red flag law and an individual moves, there's not necessarily a trail this individual has a gun. So, they may be flagged as an individual who needs support from a psychosocial standpoint. They may not come up in any database they own a gun," said Harvin.   

Research suggests red flags do make a difference. According to one study, for every 10 to 20 firearms removed in Connecticut, a life is saved.

In California, there have been at least 21 cases when a "red flag" law disarmed people threatening mass shootings.  

Skeptics, though, remain on both sides with gun rights supporters arguing they punish law-abiding people. The ACLU insists the process must be fair to those affected.  

Regardless, whatever gun measure these senators possibly come up with would need 60-votes to overcome a filibuster to get a vote for the bill. Meanwhile, some states, including West Virginia, maintain red flag laws will not be coming to their state. 

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