WASHINGTON — (TNS) The House voted Thursday to allow confiscation of guns from individuals deemed an “extreme risk,” the morning after agreeing to ban teens from buying semi-automatic weapons like the one used by the 18-year-old who killed 21 people at a Uvalde elementary school.
Republicans asserted that the red flag bill, like the broader measure raising the age to buy AR-15s and similar weapons, violates the rights of law-abiding gun owners.
“We are paying for this deadly gun culture with the lives of American people,” argued the bill’s author, Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., adding that the red flag law “would empower loved ones and law enforcement to help prevent mass shootings, before they happen.”
“We’re paying for the weapons of war on our streets with the blood of our children in our schools,” she added.
The party-line vote on the red flag bill was 224-202 after a shorter but no less testy debate than the one the previous day before the House approved the “Protecting Our Kids Act” 223-204.
Both face dim prospects in the evenly divided Senate. None of the key elements are under discussion in talks led on the GOP side by Texas Sen. John Cornyn.
“This is not just about doing something. This is about doing something that matters,” Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, said during Thursday’s floor debate. “This is an emotional issue but it is our job to have an adult conversation.”
“The horror of the school shootings are an unforgivable tragedy due to the evil that we see in people,” he said, adding that the answer lies in more funding for mental health counselors, better school security and more preparation for active shooter attacks like the May 24 rampage in Uvalde that left 19 children and two teachers dead.
The broader House package would raise from 18 to 21 the age to buy semi-automatic guns. It would outlaw ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds. And it would ban bump stocks, a device that allows near-continuous firing and which a sniper used to kill 58 concertgoers in Las Vegas in 2017. Then-President Donald Trump banned such devices by executive order after that rampage.
Every Texas Republican voted against the bill. Every Texas Democrat supported it, though Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, a rare NRA-backed Democrat, voted against the ban on high-capacity magazines.
A number of Republicans, including Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, argued that involuntary commitment laws, not red flag laws, are the way to deal with dangerous mental illness.
“The only question that matters is who constitutes a dangerous person who gets to decide and why,” Roy said, noting that every state provides for courts, with advice from mental health professionals, to lock up people who are dangerous to themselves and others.
“We should actually be serious about committing people who have mental health problems. That would actually solve the problem,” he said. “Everything we are doing here today is a pretext. It is a pretext for targeting and confiscating and eliminating our ability to have weapons.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, responded with umbrage at assertions that red flag laws violate the rights of gun owners.
“You’re just simply wrong,” she said, casting the objections as a misunderstanding of the Constitution and accusing Republicans of trying to “masquerade as believing that it is a shame for children to die but yet do nothing.”
“Do you want guns in the hands of dangerous people? ... Where is your heart and where is your soul?” she said.
Several Republicans challenged the preemptive philosophy behind red flag laws.
“Is this the United States Congress or the plot for the movie ‘Minority Report’?” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., referring to a Tom Cruise science-fiction blockbuster in which would-be murderers are arrested and imprisoned before committing the crime, based on warnings from clairvoyants.
“If House Democrats were so worried about violence, they wouldn’t open the borders, open the prisons, and then disarm law-abiding Americans who want to protect themselves and protect their families,” Gaetz said.
House Judiciary chair Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., called such arguments “nonsense” and “surreal,” noting that 18 states and the District of Columbia have red flag laws.
“Every court has said that they meet the requirements of procedural due process,” he said. “We can save thousands of lives annually, so let us begin.”
Rep. Don Beyer, a Virginia Democrat, recalled the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, where “a young man who was well known to the community to have paranoid schizophrenia” murdered 32 fellow students.
That remains the nation’s worst school shooting.
“He’d been hospitalized, been picked up by the police. He’d been banned from classes. There’s every reason in the world for him to be on the background checklist. Yet he was able to buy the weapons legally that killed those 32 kids,” Beyer said.
“Red flag laws may not protect everyone but it will save many lives and it’s a start,” he said.
“It’s just good sense to protect people from killing other people,” added Rep. Al Green, D-Texas.
But Republicans complained that under the bill approved Thursday, courts can renew 14-day gun removal orders indefinitely. And the initial removal order can be issued without the owner having a chance to object.
“Can you imagine if you had a disgruntled ex, or somebody who hates you because of your political views and they go to a judge and say oh this person is dangerous. And that judge would take away your guns ... That is wrong,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz.
“Due process after the fact is no due process at all,” said Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., accusing Democrats of “taking advantage of tragedy to promote their agenda to destroy our constitutional rights.”