South Carolina’s two Republican senators are rightly encouraging their Senate colleagues to address gun violence in the wake of mass killings in Texas and Ohio. The Senate should cancel its August recess to face this urgent issue.
“To suggest that for some reason we’re not willing to go back (to Washington) and confront this major issue in our nation, I reject that,” Sen. Tim Scott said in an interview Sunday on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “I reject the notion that something is more important than saving lives if we can do so.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham on Monday announced plans to introduce bipartisanlegislation that would encourage states to enact so-called red flag laws that allow police to seize weapons from individuals shown to be a threat to themselves or others. The Senate should take up the proposal right away. “Many of these shootings involved individuals who showed signs of violent behavior that are either ignored or not followed up,” Mr. Graham, a Second Amendment supporter, said in a news release. “State Red Flag laws will provide the tools for law enforcement to do something about many of these situations before it’s too late.”
He is right about that, but states already have the ability to enact such laws and many, including South Carolina, have declined to do so. While Mr. Graham’s proposal would help states that have been willing to enact modest and reasonable gun laws, it may not do anything to convince legislatures such as ours to act.
President Donald Trump seems to understand that. In his statement Monday about the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, he said Congress should “reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment, but, when necessary, involuntary confinement.”
Both red flag laws and involuntary confinement laws have passionate opponents. Despite the state’s experiences with mass shootings, the South Carolina Legislature failed to take up a red flag proposal this year from state Rep. Ivory Thigpen, D-Columbia. Lawmakers should revisit the issue.
Red flag laws have been sharply criticized by some gun advocates as unconstitutional despite conditional support from the National Rifle Association, which told The New York Times that such legislation must have “strong due process protections, require treatment and include penalties for those who make frivolous claims.”
Nevertheless, in response to multiple mass atrocities, the idea is gaining traction. Before the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, last year, only five states had red flag laws. Since then the number has climbed to 17 states and the District of Columbia.
The bill proposed by Sen. Graham and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., would include grants to states to help them develop plans for timely intervention to prevent the possibility of imminent violence. “These grants will be given to law enforcement so they can hire and consult with mental health professionals to better determine which cases need to be acted upon. This grant program requires robust due process and judicial review. It does allow for quick action,” Sen. Graham said.
A growing number of Republican senators are calling for red flag laws and more comprehensive background checks for gun purchases. While no one law will stop all gun violence, both proposals would chip away at the problem and certainly would save lives.
As Sen. Scott said Sunday, roughly two-thirds of the nearly 40,000 deaths caused by guns each year are suicides, and there is evidence linking some mass killings to mental illnesses. “We are in the midst of a mental health crisis that we have not truly identified.”
The nation needs bipartisan legislation to begin to address this crisis.