By David Larson
On Sunday June 12, Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut announced that a group of U.S. senators had reached agreement on a package of gun reforms. Both of North Carolina’s senators, Republicans Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, were part of this bipartisan working group.
“We have a deal,” Murphy said on Twitter. “Today a bipartisan group of 20 Senators (10 D and 10 R) is announcing a breakthrough agreement on gun violence – the first in 30 years – that will save lives. I think you’ll be surprised at the scope of our framework.”
Murphy then laid out six elements of the framework:
- Funding to states so they can “pass and implement crisis intervention orders,” also known as red-flag laws
- Funding for mental health and school safety
- Preventing domestic abusers from buying weapons
- Fighting gun trafficking and straw purchasing
- Creating enhanced background checks for gun-buyers under 21
- Making more commercial gun dealers subject to federal background check obligations
“Will this bill do everything we need to end our nation’s gun violence epidemic?” Murphy asked. “No. But it’s real, meaningful progress. And it breaks a 30 year log jam, demonstrating that Democrats and Republicans can work together in a way that truly saves lives. Drafting this law and passing it through both chambers will not be easy. We have a long way before this gets to the President’s desk. But with your help and activism, we can get this done. This time, failure cannot be an option.”
While Tillis and Burr were instrumental to the creation of this framework, many other conservatives are opposed to elements of the proposal — especially red-flag laws. Paul Valone, president of the gun-rights group Grass Roots North Carolina, is opposing Tillis and Burr’s efforts, asking supporters to call and email them, as well as to attend a June 17 protest at Tillis’ Raleigh office.
Valone described his concerns with universal background checks and red-flag laws in a recent op-ed for Carolina Journal.
“Under ‘red flag’ GCOs, family members, spouses, dating partners, vindictive ex’s, or gun-hating coworkers can declare you ‘dangerous’ in ex parte (emergency) court hearings you might not even know about, denying you a defense in court,” he wrote.
The bill is likely to pass the Senate, considering 10 Republican senators were involved in drafting it — enough to pass the 60-vote filibuster threshold if Democrats all back the bill — and since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said he was in favor of the bipartisan gun workgroup and their efforts — although he was more vague on whether he supported the details of their plan.
The more difficult lift could be to pass the legislation through the U.S. House. While there is no filibuster in the House, as there is in the Senate, many progressives have made clear they are unsatisfied with the scope of the plan and many conservatives are skeptical of red-flag laws.
U.S. Reps. Richard Hudson, R-8th (left), and Ted Budd R-13th, at a May 2, 2018, roundtable (CJ photo by Kari Travis)
Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican who represents N.C’s 8th Congressional District, released his own plan last week. The focus on school safety and mental health mirrors much of the Senate compromise, but red-flag orders and expanded background checks are notably absent.
“In the House, Congressman Hudson has focused on targeted solutions to improve gun and school safety,” Greg Steele, Hudson’s communications director, told Carolina Journal on June 13. “Last week, he sponsored the leading Republican alternative to Democrat gun control bills being voted on in the House. His bill, HR 7966, the STOP II Secure Every School and Protect our Nation’s Children Act, provides $7 billion to hire school resource officers, hire mental health guidance counselors to intervene with students before they reach a breaking point, and fund STOP School Violence programs that harden schools and provide training to law enforcement, school officials, and students. This $7 billion is funded by redirecting already approved but unspent COVID-19 funding.”
The bill was blocked for consideration by Democrats in the House.
“I am disappointed a vote on my STOP II Act was blocked last night, but I will not stop advancing this common sense bill and seeking common ground to protect schools, improve mental health, and save lives,” Hudson stated.
Steele said Hudson does not have comment on the Senate compromise yet, but will wait until the bill’s text is released.
Democrats in the House have their own more-restrictive gun bills they would prefer. The two they are pursuing as a package are H.R. 2377, the Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Act; and H.R. 7910, the Protecting Our Kids Act. The first would create a federal “red-flag law” enforceable through federal courts, and the second would raise the age to buy semi-automatic guns to 21.
Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., who recently won the Republican primary for the 2022 U.S. Senate race, released a statement on these bills, saying:
“The best way to keep our kids safe is to increase school security measures, boost mental health interventions for those who need help, and offer increased training for local police. Instead of crafting serious solutions, House Democrats raced to pursue gun control proposals that are unconstitutional, unworkable, and would not meaningfully address mass violence in America. Infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens will not keep our communities safe.”
Despite the dueling proposals in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, seemed open to considering the Senate framework if it made its way to the House. She said while “more is needed,” it would “take steps to save lives.”
Separately, Tillis joined a number of other Republican senators on June 13 in announcing a bill to increase penalties for felons who possess and use firearms, which they call the “Stop Gun Criminals Act.”
“Finding commonsense solutions to reduce gun violence starts with preventing dangerous, violent felons from illegally possessing a firearm,” Tillis said in a press release. “This is a necessary measure that could save countless lives, without treading on the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans. It is a first step in reducing gun violence and I am proud to work with my colleagues to tighten up current law for felons and repeat offenders.”
The bill sets a 5-year minimum for illegal possession of a gun, increases penalties for brandishing a gun during a crime from 7 to 10 years, and increases penalties for those who fire their weapon during a crime from 10 to 15 years, among other related changes federal gun laws.