Congressional Republicans, under pressure to respond to this weekend’s massacres, appear to be coalescing around legislation to help law enforcement to take guns from those who pose an imminent danger — a measure that, if signed into law, would be the most significant gun safety legislation enacted in 20 years.
“Red flag” laws such as this might not be as momentous — or controversial — as the now-expired assault weapons ban or the instant background check system, both of which were enacted in 1994 as part of President Bill Clinton’s sprawling crime bill. But they may be politically feasible.
With President Trump endorsing the idea, a number of Republicans — including Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican — are embracing the concept. Mr. Thune told his hometown newspaper, The Argus Leader, that he was “confident Congress will be able to find common ground on the so-called red flag issue.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, has already proposed legislation that would offer federal grants to states to help them enact red flag laws, also known as “extreme risk protection orders.” And the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, has asked three committee chairmen to “reflect on the subjects the president raised” and hold bipartisan talks of “potential solutions.”
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia already have red flag laws. But the push for them on Capitol Hill stops well short of the legislation mandating universal background checks that Democrats and gun control advocates — as well as a handful of Republicans — have been clamoring for. Already, Democrats are warning that Republicans will use Mr. Graham’s proposal to skirt the larger issue.
[Read more on ‘Red Flag Laws’ and which states have them and which don’t.]
“Right now I can sense from my conversations with Republican colleagues that they are really grappling and struggling — scrambling may be too strong a word — but they are really searching for some steps that are meaningful,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, who is partnering with Mr. Graham on the red flag bill, said on Tuesday. “And there’s nothing more strongly supported by the American people than background checks.”
Mr. Blumenthal and other Democrats are demanding that Mr. McConnell bring the Senate back from its August recess to pass two House bills to expand background checks to internet and gun show purchases, and to allow the F.B.I. more time to investigate a would-be gun buyer flagged by the current background check system.