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Republicans, Pro-Gun Groups Defeat State Red-Flag Laws

After 17 high school students and staff were killed by a mass shooter in 2018, Pennsylvania state Rep. Todd Stephens watched Republicans in Florida rally around a new red-flag law. Such measures, which aim to temporarily remove guns from people at risk of harming themselves or others, found rare bipartisan accord there after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre as a way to reduce gun violence without violating the Second Amendment. When Stephens pushed a similar measure in Pennsylvania, his Republican colleagues stalled it out, arguing that it could infringe gun owners’ lead to costly court battles or become a vengeful tool for people to disarm their enemies, reports the Washington Post. “It was frustrating and disappointing,” Stephens said. “It took children dying in Florida and a police officer dying in Indiana before they passed ... [red-flag] laws. I pray to God that is not what it will take for us to act in Pennsylvania.”

Red-flag laws have once again become a focal point, thanks to the bipartisan gun deal signed last month by President Biden, which may prompt more states to adopt the measures by providing a legislative framework and implementation grants, and to improve public education about the laws in states that already have them. Proponents say the laws are common-sense measures backed by numerous studies showing they save lives. So far, experience in Pennsylvania has been more common in Republican-controlled statehouses than the accord in Florida. While 19 states and the District of Columbia have passed red-flag laws, many other red-flag bills like Stephens’s have fizzled out in the same time period, mostly in GOP state legislatures. The bills were defeated through campaigns organized by local and national gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association. Faced with heavy lobbying, Republican lawmakers have echoed the groups’ concerns in hearings and public venues. More than 1,000 cities and counties in red-flag states have declared themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries,” where local police have vowed to not use the laws. At the same time, GOP leaders in five states have recently proposed “anti-red-flag laws” to preemptively ban or repeal the measures.