May 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Bipartisan talks on red flag laws pick up after Texas shooting

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn). Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Senate Democrats and Republicans held small-group discussions Wednesday to gauge bipartisan support for passage of any legislation in the wake of the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting.

What we're hearing: The most realistic path, as of now, seems to be through "red flag" legislation, which would allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from people considered to be a threat to themselves or others, senators say.

  • Even so, several Republicans said they still believe that should be up to states, not Congress.
  • Legislation that would expand background checks or address loopholes on waiting periods is also being discussed but currently appears less likely to overcome a Senate filibuster.

Driving the news: Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), a moderate known to cross party lines, discussed potential yellow and red flag laws Wednesday morning, Collins told reporters.

  • Notably, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chairman of Senate Republicans' campaign arm, told Axios: "I'm OK with" supporting a red flag law at the federal level — but said generally such laws should be up to the states.
  • Nineteen states currently have red flag laws, including in GOP-controlled states such as Florida and Indiana.

What we’re watching: Senators are planning to discuss potential paths forward during their private lunches this afternoon, and more lawmakers are planning to engage with their colleagues across the aisle.

  • Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) addressed reporters before walking into the Senate chamber for votes — a rare move for her.
  • “I'm going to start having conversations again, with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, to determine whether or not there's something we can actually do to help increase safety," Sinema said.
  • But she also indicated she would not vote to eliminate the filibuster to get a vote on the issue.
  • Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who proposed funding for “local units” focused on defending children from mass shootings, said he is having bipartisan discussions as well.

Reality check: The Senate has a record of logjams when it comes to passing legislation in the wake of mass shootings.

  • Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) negotiated a red flag measure following two 2019 mass shootings in San Antonio and Dayton, Ohio. That bill failed to garner the necessary 60 Senate votes for passage.

What they’re saying:

  • Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.): “I'm generally inclined to think some kind of red flag law is a good idea,” he said. He hasn’t discussed this with his Republican colleagues in the hours since the Texas shooting, however, and says he isn't sure whether such a law would garner 10 GOP votes.
  • Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who is retiring this year, says he anticipates having a conversation with Collins about red flag laws.
  • Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said he spoke with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) about a potential red flag bill, adding that while he's skeptical a federal law can get 10 GOP votes, "I'm going to look at anything that has practical application and the ability to pass that's going to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill."
  • Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said he plans to talk to Collins about a red flag law, telling Axios, “I just want to make sure it’s structured in a way that [due process] is protected.”

But, but, but: Some Republicans bristled at the idea, and many Democrats are skeptical of real progress.

  • Senate Republican Conference Chair John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), asked if Republicans could support a red flag law, told Axios, “Not this Republican.”
  • Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who is known to break with his party at times on key votes, said he thinks "it would be wise to put in place red flag laws," but pushed back on the idea of passing them at the federal level. “Let’s have each state do it if they’d like to,” he said.
  • Romney did say, however, that he is supportive of federal background checks.
  • Both Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said they're not optimistic any meaningful gun legislation could get 10 Republican votes.
  • "Several different times we've had conversations among members and at markups about the desirability and the relevance of having" red-flag laws, Coons said. "That should be enactable, but in the several years since, despite repeated efforts ... we haven't been able to get to 10 on that."
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