In the wake of two deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, said she may be willing to vote for a nationwide “red flag” law that would attempt to keep guns away from dangerous people.
Several states have already adopted their own versions of red flag laws, and a national version has been gaining traction in Congress among Republican lawmakers this week. The laws are more popular than most gun-control measures among conservative politicians because they don’t actually restrict dangerous weapons — they restrict the people who could use them to do harm.
In a written statement to The Columbian, Herrera Beutler expressed tentative support.
“Seventeen states have now implemented red flag laws, including Washington in 2016 and Oregon in 2017, and we’re getting the data on how effective those laws have been,” the congresswoman wrote. “But inaction isn’t an option, and I’m willing to pursue any bipartisan solution that keeps firearms out of the hands of those in mental health crisis as long as it contains strong due process protections.”
Red flag laws allow a judge to issue a protection order that gives police authority to temporarily confiscate a person’s firearms. The person is also barred from purchasing guns for the length of the protection order.
To fall under the jurisdiction of the law, the person must be deemed an immediate danger to themselves or others.
Effectiveness of red flag laws is hard to measure, because it’s difficult to know how many shootings haven’t happened as a result of confiscating weapons. Last year, a study of Connecticut and Indiana found that suicide deaths by gunshot dropped by 7.5 percent and 13.7 percent, respectively, in the years following the passage of risk-based gun seizure laws.
In Washington, voters overwhelmingly approved a red flag law in 2016 when they voted for Initiative 1491.
Under intense public pressure to act, Republicans in both the House and Senate are starting to rally around some national version of a red flag law, though it’s unclear what that would entail. President Donald Trump also expressed support for the idea during a televised speech in the immediate aftermath of the shootings.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has asked three committee chairmen to “reflect on the subjects the president raised” and hold bipartisan talks of “potential solutions,” the New York Times reported earlier this week.
Calling out terrorism, not racism
In a statement after the shootings, Herrera Beutler said she was “absolutely sickened” by the violence in Dayton and El Paso.
“This is terrorism on our front steps. As long as senseless attacks like this are taking place in our communities, Congress should continue taking meaningful action to help prevent them and protect innocent lives,” Herrera Beutler said.
She said the country needed to find new ways to “get unhinged individuals mental health resources.” She also pointed to law enforcement, adding she’d like to give police “additional tools to intervene before a tragedy occurs.”
She did not address the white supremacist ideology that apparently motivated the accused El Paso shooter. He drove nine hours to the Mexican border and allegedly committed the shooting after posting an anti-immigrant manifesto online about the Hispanic “invasion” of the country, using a word that Trump critics point out is borrowed directly from the president.
The FBI reports that the Dayton gunman’s motives are currently unknown, though one official anonymously told the New York Times that he may have been associated with misogynist incel — “involuntary celibate” — groups.
In the past the congresswoman, who is Hispanic, has skirted around Trump’s rhetoric when it veers into racist territory. Last month, when he told four House members of color who are U.S. citizens to “go back” to their countries of origin, Herrera Beutler voted against a formal condemnation of his words, but said she’d written the president a letter “explaining why I believe his language was harmful.”
On gun legislation, Herrera Beutler’s past votes vary.
She’s repeatedly co-sponsored legislation to uphold concealed carry permits across state lines, and in her first term co-sponsored a bill that would have made it easier for gun manufacturers and dealers to sell to customers outside their state of residence.
Herrera Beutler supported 2018’s STOP School Violence Act, which passed the House with bipartisan support but stalled in the Senate, and would provide funding to states to increase school security with metal detectors and other deterrents. It doesn’t include any gun-control measures.
She also supported 2017’s Fix NICS Act, which penalizes government agencies for failing to comply with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Herrera Beutler was endorsed by the National Rifle Association in 2018. Though the gun rights lobbying group no longer gives lawmakers letter grades, she’s previously held an A rating.
Her last direct donation from the NRA was during the 2016 election cycle, when she received $1,000. Since first running for office in 2010, she’s received $10,450 in direct NRA contributions, though the Center for Responsive Politics reports that she’s received a career total of $58,970 from various pro-gun PACs and individual donors.