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Republicans complain DOJ is funding campaign raising awareness about gun safety measures

The public overwhelmingly supports red flag laws, which allow law enforcement to prevent gun violence by temporarily confiscating guns from someone who poses a risk to themselves or others.

By Oliver Willis - July 27, 2023
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Gun safety laws
Firearms are displayed at a gun shop in Salem, Ore., Feb. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)

Thirty-two Republican members of Congress have written a letter to the Department of Justice to complain that the agency has sent states $230 million in funding for red flag gun laws and to raise awareness of those laws. The funds became available under the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that President Joe Biden signed into law in June 2022.

Red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders, allow law enforcement to temporarily take guns away from someone who has been determined by a court to be in a crisis situation where they could pose a risk to themselves or others.

The July 25 letter baselessly claims that the department is illegally funding red flag laws as part of an attempt to “bribe pro-gun states into passing gun confiscation laws.”

The legislators, led by Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS) and Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV), argue that the department should not provide these grants to states that do not currently have specific red flag laws on the books and that the grants are an attempt by the federal government to circumvent state laws.

“The Bureau of Justice Assistance must swiftly correct this gross misuse of Bipartisan Safer Communities Act grant programs and instead respect the Second Amendment and due process rights of American citizens,” the letter demands.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act put aside $750 million over a five-year period to fund state crisis intervention programs, including red flag laws. The grants also cover drug courts and mental health courts.

On Feb. 14, the anniversary of the 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, the Department of Justice announced that $230 million of the grant money would be sent to multiple states, territories, and Washington, D.C.

“I have long championed ‘red flag’ laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders, which could potentially have stopped shooters in Parkland and other tragedies,” Biden said in a statement accompanying the announcement.

The Republican legislators complain that awards were given to Arkansas, Arizona, Kansas and Minnesota, which do not have red flag laws. But the grants given out by the department are intended to fund “communication, education, and public awareness” of red flag laws, according to the language used in the department’s description of the award for Arkansas. Other award notices say the funds can be used for creating or implementing red flag programs.

In a release, the Justice Department noted that the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act requires that states have due process requirements in place before a red flag program can be funded. This means that states have to have systems in place that would prevent a legal gun owner from having their Second Amendment right to “keep and bear” a firearm violated once a red flag process is initiated.

The department explained that it has long supported the use of these orders and that it had previously released model legislation to assist states in creating red flag laws. The department said its guidelines were meant to work within the boundaries of existing state laws.

Even in states that do have red flag laws in place, a lack of awareness of them and how they can be implemented has been an issue in preventing gun violence. The Associated Press reported that red flag laws were only used to remove guns 10 times per 100,000 adult residents in the 19 states and Washington, D.C., that had red flag laws. “The number of people we are catching with red flags is likely infinitesimal,” Indiana University law professor Jody Madeira told the service.

Preliminary studies have shown a possible reduction in suicides in some states where red flag laws have been implemented. A 2018 study from the University of Indianapolis suggested that laws in Indiana and Connecticut contributed to a reduction in suicides in those states.

In an August 2022 poll of American adults from UChicago Harris/AP-NORC, 78% of respondents said that they strongly or somewhat support laws that would temporarily prevent people from accessing guns if they were a danger to themselves or others.

Red flag laws are backed by the gun safety group Everytown for Gun Safety and are opposed by the conservative National Rifle Association.

In addition to his support for red flag laws, Biden has continued to push for more federal legislation on gun safety issues.

“It is within our power to once again ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, to require safe storage of guns, to end gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability, and to enact universal background checks,” Biden said in a statement on July 4.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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