LONGVIEW — Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler and her Trump-endorsed opponent in the primary are questioning proposed legislation in light of recent mass shootings.
Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, and Joe Kent, a Republican from Yacolt, want to review the constitutionality of the legislation lawmakers are most hopeful of passage: a proposed Senate package addressing school safety and gun control that could be voted on within the next few weeks and would also need support in the House.
On June 12, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators announced the package, which includes funding for states to enforce or create “red flag” programs, expanded background checks for firearm buyers between the ages of 18 and 21 and money for school-based safety and mental health policies.
The proposal was announced about four weeks after an 18-year-old shooter killed 19 children and two adults on May 24 inside an Uvalde, Texas elementary school. On May 14, another 18-year-old gunman killed 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
Red flag laws
Kent, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump in the fall, called himself a Second Amendment absolutist. Kent told The Daily News he fully opposed measures such as red flag laws, which he called a possibly unconstitutional government overreach.
“This is 100 percent about keeping the government in check. The government is supposed to have a healthy fear of its citizens and that’s why the second amendment exists,” Kent said.
Washington has a red flag law, officially known as extreme-risk protection orders, which was established by ballot initiative in 2016 with a supermajority of voter support. The policy allows law enforcement, family members and household members to file with the court to request a temporary seizure of firearms from people who are a “significant danger” to themselves or others.
Herrera Beutler said she wanted to see if the final set of reforms in the Senate package would be effective and constitutional.
“The framework produced by the Senate is just that — a framework without specific legislative text. Whatever text is passed by the Senate will require careful review,” Herrera Beutler’s campaign said in a written statement.
In the past, Herrera Beutler has shown support for the types of mental health and school security policies that could end up in the Senate package. Herrera Beutler co-sponsored a 2021 bill that would have required elementary and secondary schools to install silent alarms to alert police about safety issues and would have provided training for school resource officers.
About two weeks after the Texas shooting, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would ban the sale of large capacity magazines and raise the age for buying semi-automatic rifles to 21. Herrera Beutler and nearly all House Republicans voted against the bill, which is not expected to succeed in the Senate.
Kent said he wanted an expanded presence for school resource officers and policies to allow teachers to be armed at school. Kent said the state “took away” the ability for teachers like the one killed in Uvalde from carrying guns in their classrooms.
Texas does, in fact, have two programs in place where districts can opt in to certify teachers as armed marshals or “guardians.” Roughly a quarter of Texas school districts participate in one of the programs. More than 75% of Texas educators surveyed by the Texas American Federation of Teachers said they would not want to be armed at school.
Talks on the Senate package have slowed over disputes on what has been called a “boyfriend loophole,” which allows convicted domestic abusers to buy a gun if they are not married to or living with the domestic abuse victim. Senators have said they want to finalize the legislation and vote on it before July Fourth.