As senators seek common ground on guns, 'red flag' laws become a focus
In what might be characterized as an exercise in the art of the possible, a bipartisan group of senators led by John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., have spent the past few days focused on a limited set of new policies targeting gun violence.
They're still in the earliest phases of brainstorming, but three broad areas are showing promise: incentivizing states to pass red flag laws, updates to school safety protocols, and possibly some narrow changes to background checks.
"We don't have to end the epidemic of gun violence in this nation with one piece of legislation, right?" Murphy said at an event this week. "What we need to do is break this logjam — but break this logjam with a piece of legislation that's going to save lives, not a piece of legislation that is just going to check boxes."
Senators are looking for measures that can clear the 60-vote bar in the Senate, and Republicans in particular want to focus on changes that could have prevented the Uvalde, Texas, shooting that left two teachers and 19 children dead.
Another senator in those discussions, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told NPR's Morning Edition that convincing more states to pass "red flag" measures could make a real difference. The laws, which are on the books in 19 states so far, let authorities take guns from people at high risk for harming themselves or others.
"The Parkland shooter practically took out an ad in the newspaper, he said, referring to the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at Parkland, Fla., that left 14 students and three educators dead. "He called law enforcement, and yet they had no power to stop him."
A conservative argues red flag laws work better than gun bans
That sort of telegraphing of intentions is common among mass shooters, said David French, an editor with the conservative publication The Dispatch who recently wrote in support of red flag laws.
French, who told Morning Edition he keeps an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle at home, said that red flag laws would be more effective than a ban on such weapons.
Such a ban wouldn't work, French says, because "it's a virtual impossibility — there's tens of millions, 20 million maybe or more of them in circulation right now." Such a ban has little support among conservatives, he said, unlike red flag laws.
'The history here is that interest wanes'
Beyond red flag laws, Blumenthal pointed out two other possible areas of bipartisan agreement among senators: incentivizing or mandating the safe storage of firearms in private homes, and including more information in the background checks that must be completed before selling a gun to someone.
Regardless of what's ultimately in the package, he said it's critical to get legislation to the Senate floor as soon as possible to keep pressure on GOP senators.
"The history here is that interest wanes, that Republicans abandon these efforts, and I believe this is a 'put-up or shut-up' time for Republicans," he said. "They need to show up to work and do their job: vote for commonsense, sensible measures."
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