September 16, 2019
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For real action on gun violence, focus on areas of agreement

oshua A. Bickel /The Columbus Dispatch via AP | BDN
oshua A. Bickel /The Columbus Dispatch via AP | BDN
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine delivers a statement with Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, left, and First Lady Fran DeWine, right, following the Dayton Mass Shooting on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019 at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio.

When members of Congress return in early September from their month-long recess, they should arrive ready to debate measures — including expanded background checks and red flag legislation — that can help ease America’s gun violence epidemic while respecting Second Amendment rights.

Many on the left, including U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Maine Speaker of the House and Senate candidate Sara Gideon, have called for the U.S. Senate to forgo its current recess and return for a special session to take up gun legislation already passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

This is an unnecessary attempt to score political points when the focus should be on achievable reform.

There is no need for the Senate to come back immediately, though there is a need for action to address the clear deficiencies in our gun background check system, which despite recent updates and improvements, still does not apply as extensively as it should.

Rushed decision making does not lead to good law; legislators should be deliberate in their efforts in order to identify measures that are possible, not simply feel-good, and workable for both lawful gun owners and law enforcement.

The August recess also provides an opportunity for constituents to respectfully interact with their representatives and express their desire for action. If support for strengthening background checks is as robust as gun control advocates say — over 80 percent in Maine, according to the Maine Gun Safety Coalition — then this is a perfect time for constituents to bring that message to federal lawmakers as they hop between public appearances while they are in their home states.

Ultimately, it is protracted, bipartisan discussions and grassroots pressure — not campaigning disguised as policymaking — that can provide a possible path to sensible gun reform.

“We need to come together and work on all of these proposals so that we can greatly lessen the chances or feel that we’ve done everything that we can to prevent the kinds of horrific tragedies that we’ve seen over the past weekend and indeed over the past year,” Sen. Susan Collins told reporters earlier this week.

She’s not being terribly specific, but she’s also not wrong. And as one of the few Senate Republicans who has been willing to engage on issues such as background checks and gun trafficking, she has significant experience in this debate.

The House passed a universal background checks bill in February, but unfortunately, it’s a blunt instrument trying to fix a complicated matter that requires a precision tool. Rep. Jared Golden made the right decision earlier this year when he was one of only two Democrats to vote against it.

“Today’s bill in the House was a near mirror image of the Question 3 ballot initiative that Mainers soundly rejected in 2016, with all 11 counties in the Second District opposing the measure,” Golden said in a written statement at the time. “While many Mainers support background checks for gun sales, this bill would have required them for personal transfers, including many common loans and trades between individuals.”

Instead, the Senate should once again take up the bipartisan, years-old proposal from Republican Sen. Pat Toomey and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin that would require background checks on all commercial sales, exempting transfers between family and friends. If it’s able to pass in the Republican-led Senate — an unquestionably heavy lift — it should find easy passage in the House.

We support expanding and strengthening the background check system in an attempt to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals, domestic abusers, severely mentally ill individuals, and other people already prohibited from receiving a firearm under federal law. But support for that concept doesn’t require us — or lawmakers from either party — to support every background check bill.

The details matter, and if legislators focus their efforts there rather than on political posturing in the now-constant election cycle, some action may finally be possible.

A much more likely road to action when lawmakers return to Washington is work on federal “red flag” legislation, as it was here in Maine this legislative session. Red flag laws can save lives by allowing for temporary gun seizures, with due process, when someone presents a danger to themselves or others. And encouragingly, a top Senate Republican and Trump ally, Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, has expressed interest in federal legislation to encourage more states to pursue their own red flag laws.

Clearly, there are at least some Republicans ready to engage on these issues. It would be a mistake for Democrats and others pushing for gun reform to make the perfect the enemy of the good, or to attempt to shame opponents into action rather than searching for areas of agreement.

 



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