Why a California Democrat’s ‘red flag’ gun proposal might become law
The House on Wednesday advanced a comprehensive package of gun reforms that would, among other things, raise the age required to legally purchase semiautomatic rifles, restrict high-capacity ammunition magazines and create stiff gun storage requirements.
While none of those proposals are likely to make it through the evenly divided Senate, another Democratic initiative may stand a chance: On Thursday, the House passed a “red flag” bill that would seek to temporarily remove guns from those deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.
News Analysis: Rare sense of ‘anxiety and urgency’ drives bipartisan talks on gun safety in Senate
The Senate for the first time in decades engages in serious bipartisan gun policy negotiations that, though far less ambitious than some Democrats want, could save lives.
A top Senate Republican has signaled that a bipartisan group of senators seeking a compromise measure on gun safety discussed the possibility of including red-flag provisions.
The House’s red flag bill was the result of separate measures being pushed by Reps. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) and Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), both of whom have experienced personal loss due to gun violence. When Carbajal was 12 years old, his sister died by suicide, and McBath’s teenage son was shot and killed in 2012.
The bill addressed the issue in different ways. Carbajal’s portion would create a grant program at the Justice Department to encourage states to adopt red-flag measures. Nineteen states, including California, and Washington, D.C., have red-flag laws.
What does the seemingly endless onslaught of mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y. and Uvalde, Texas, do to us as a society?
McBath’s bill goes further, allowing family members and law enforcement to obtain an extreme risk protection order from a federal judge to temporarily remove firearm access to people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.
Carbajal said red-flag laws “go a long way to preventing” mass shootings, everyday gun violence and suicides.
“Many individuals who demonstrate through their behavior that they’re a danger to themselves or others usually tell someone, usually write something and the signs are there,” said Carbajal, who served on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors when a massacre occurred near UC Santa Barbara in 2014.
It’s not clear Senate Democrats and Republicans can find common ground on guns. Democrats would need at least 10 Senate Republicans to advance a gun package, and the House to pass a much narrower bill than what cleared the chamber this week.
Only five House Republicans on Thursday supported the red-flag measure in a 224-202 vote. In an alert to House Republicans’ offices Wednesday night, GOP leaders warned their members that McBath’s legislation would “strip” Americans of their 2nd Amendment rights “by confiscating firearms without due process” and framed Carbajal’s as unnecessary because federal law already prohibits firearm possession for criminal and domestic violence convictions, disqualifying protective orders and prior mental health commitments.
Senate Republicans broadly oppose most gun safety policies Democrats would like to see enacted, but Democrats believe that incentivizing states to adopt red-flag laws could win GOP support because it essentially empowers states to make their own decisions. Polls show Americans broadly support such measures, and new research indicates such red flag laws may reduce certain kinds of gun violence.
A study from the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis published last week found that California’s red-flag laws “show promise for preventing suicide and possibly mass shootings, but implementation” in its first three years “has been slow and variable across jurisdictions in California.”
A study by the same program published last year found that two-thirds of Californians had never heard of the state’s red-flag laws, which were implemented in 2016. Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week that the state would spend $11 million on education programs to promote the use of red-flag laws.
The bill would raise the age limit for purchasing a semi-automatic rifle and prohibit the sale of ammunition magazines of more than 15 rounds.
While not as popular as mental health screenings and requiring background checks to purchase firearms at gun shows or in private sales, 74% of registered voters said they would definitely vote for a congressional candidate who supports red-flag laws, according to a national NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.
“California has shown us that that red flag laws work,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement to The Times. “These laws have taken guns from dangerous individuals before they could kill. They save lives.”
Feinstein has sponsored a bill working through the Senate that mirrors Carbajal’s grant proposal. She said the chamber should “absolutely pass it” because it would “help more states enact these common-sense laws.”
“Family members and law enforcement are often the first to recognize a person is a threat, so it just makes sense to allow them to get a legal court order to remove guns before things turn violent,” Feinstein added.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) has led bipartisan negotiations with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and others. Speaking on the floor Thursday, he highlighted areas of agreement senators are looking at.
“Mental health and school safety are, seem to me, as kind of no-brainers in a sense where I don’t think there’s a lot of division between that side of the aisle and this side of the aisle,” Cornyn said. “But we’re also looking at ways to keep guns out of the hands of people who already by law are prohibited from having them.”
“We can do this,” Cornyn insisted of the Senate. “Sometimes politics is called the art of the possible, and I think this is possible.”
Murphy was less sanguine.
“It’ll be a miracle if we get a framework agreement, never mind a final bill,” Murphy told reporters on Thursday, highlighting the heavy lift ahead to strike a bipartisan deal. “But miracles sometimes happen!”
House Democrats who supported the red flag initiative said they believed it stood a chance of being passed in the Senate. But they said they doubted whether Carabjal’s proposal would do much to change the gun landscape in much of the country.
“Simply incentivizing states, when it comes to a state like mine, does nothing, really,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas). “We have a governor and a Republican-controlled Legislature that will absolutely not pass a red-flag law, regardless of the amount of incentives that the federal government provides.”
Get our Essential Politics newsletter
The latest news, analysis and insights from our politics team.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.