House passes ‘red flag’ bill in hopes of stemming shootings

Bill’s passage caps a week of House action on gun violence

Georgia Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath sponsored the bill to allow federal courts to issue orders temporarily barring some individuals from possessing firearms or ammunition. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Georgia Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath sponsored the bill to allow federal courts to issue orders temporarily barring some individuals from possessing firearms or ammunition. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted June 9, 2022 at 1:11pm

The House voted 224-202 on Thursday to allow federal courts to temporarily bar some people from possessing or purchasing firearms if they are believed to pose a risk to themselves or others. 

Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., law enforcement officers, family members or household members could petition a federal court for an “extreme risk protection order” to temporarily prohibit an individual from possessing, purchasing or receiving firearms or ammunition. 

The passage of the bill caps the House’s actions this week on gun violence, which included votes on other gun control bills and testimony from survivors of a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.  

“This is absolutely the most common-sense proposal that will come before Congress on guns,” said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. “Keep them out of the hands of people that are dangerous to themselves and others.” 

The Senate is unlikely to pass the legislation as written, but a bipartisan group of senators is considering a similar proposal that would create a grant program for states to create their own “red flag” laws.  

Still, the House bill passed mostly along party lines Thursday, with five Republicans voting “yes.” Most House Republicans argued that the proposal would harm due-process rights because it would allow federal courts to order temporary confiscation of guns without first holding a hearing with the accused. 

“Simply put, this bill tramples upon the Second Amendment by means of destroying the Fifth,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., who also argued that the issue should be left to the states. Nineteen states already have similar “red flag” laws. 

In a notice to House Republican offices, Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., urged members to oppose the bill. House Republicans have instead called for “hardening schools” with more armed guards and increasing mental health access.

President Joe Biden said he would sign the bill if it makes it to his desk. 

Under the bill, a federal court would need to conclude that the respondent poses a risk of “imminent” injury to themselves or others before issuing the order. People who make false reports could face fines of up to $5,000 and five years in jail. 

Emergency orders would expire 14 days after being issued, while long-term orders could last no longer than 180 days with possible renewals. Before issuing a long-term order, the court must hold a hearing with the respondent. 

For long-term orders, federal courts must consider several factors, including recent threats or acts of violence toward themselves, others or animals, and evidence of ongoing abuse of controlled substances or alcohol that has led to threats or acts of violence. The bill would create a federal grant program to encourage states to adopt red flag laws for state and local courts, a provision authored by Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Calif. 

Democrats and gun control experts argue that similar laws exist for domestic violence orders, which allow victims to seek temporary emergency protection orders without first having a hearing with the accused abuser.

House Republicans argued that red flag laws can be abused by people seeking revenge against ex-spouses and other people. 

Florida model

Studies of some state red flag laws have shown reductions in suicide rates. The effects on preventing mass shootings is harder to measure and unclear.

The Senate is considering similar legislation, and it could be bipartisan. Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., who is part of the bipartisan talks, said a law passed in Florida under then-Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who is now a senator, is the “template” for bipartisan gun legislation. 

Florida’s red flag law allows law enforcement to seek a risk protection order to temporarily confiscate firearms from individuals who pose a “significant danger” to themselves or others and prevent them from purchasing or receiving firearms or ammunition. 

Republican senators such as Roy Blunt of Missouri and Susan Collins of Maine have expressed openness to red flag laws. But talks in the Senate in recent days have revolved around a grant program for states, and less so on a federal law. 

Under current federal law, a person can be prohibited from having guns if they have been convicted of certain crimes, including domestic violence, or have been committed to a mental institution.

Senators are also considering additional funding for mental health and school security and increased background checks.  

Some Republican senators, including Joni Ernst of Iowa and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have suggested that raising the age to buy AR-15-style rifles should also be considered.