Congressional Republicans, under intense pressure to respond to this weekend’s massacres, are coalescing around legislation to help law enforcement take guns from those who pose an imminent danger — a measure that, if signed into law, would be the most significant gun control legislation enacted in 20 years.
Such “red flag” laws might not be as momentous — or controversial — as the now-expired assault weapons ban or the instant background check system, both of which were enacted in 1994 as part of President Bill Clinton’s sprawling crime bill. The House, under Democratic control, passed far more ambitious bills in February that would require background checks for all gun purchasers, including those on the internet or at gun shows, and extend waiting limits for would-be gun buyers flagged by the instant check system.
But those bills have run into a blockade that Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has erected for House bills he opposes.
Now, after back-to-back shootings this weekend left 31 people dead in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, Republicans who have long resisted gun restrictions appear rattled. In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine was shouted down on Sunday by mourners in Dayton demanding that he “do something.” On Tuesday, he urged his fellow Republicans in the state legislature to pass measures establishing red flag powers and expanding background checks.
“They were absolutely right,” Mr. DeWine said Tuesday morning at a news conference. “We must do something, and that is exactly what we are going to do.”
Representative Michael R. Turner, a Republican whose district includes Dayton, went further.
“I will support legislation that prevents the sale of military-style weapons to civilians, a magazine limit and red flag legislation,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “The carnage these military-style weapons are able to produce when available to the wrong people is intolerable.”
But in the Senate, where a background checks bill failed in 2013 after 26 children and staff members were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., red flag laws may be the only gun-related measure that could squeeze through. President Trump endorsed the idea on Monday in a speech from the White House, giving skittish Republicans cover to embrace it.
Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, told his hometown newspaper, The Argus Leader, that he was “confident Congress will be able to find common ground on the so-called red flag issue.” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, has already proposed legislation that would offer federal grants to states to help them enact and enforce red flag laws, also known as “extreme risk protection orders,” which are intended to restrict potentially dangerous people rather than dangerous weapons.
And Mr. McConnell has asked three committee chairmen to “reflect on the subjects the president raised” and hold bipartisan talks of “potential solutions.”
Red flag legislation also appears poised to move in the House. The Judiciary Committee was consulting with its members on Tuesday about whether to briefly return to Washington from a six-week recess to advance a red flag bill and other gun-related legislation, according to an aide to the committee.
But it is not clear how Democrats will proceed. Some House liberals want still more measures, such as a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, which directly fuel mass shootings. A House Democratic leadership aide suggested that a red flag bill passed out of the Senate would ideally be attached to tougher House bills to force negotiations between the two chambers.
And a few House Republicans might go along. Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said he had it with the “broken record” debate over gun violence and called for universal background checks, raising the age to buy a gun to 21 and banning some high-capacity magazines “like the 100-round drum the Dayton shooter used this weekend.”
“If we can all recognize the existence of real evil and focus again on respecting each other, and for the love of God quit naming and showing the shooters, we can and will make a real impact,” he wrote Monday on Medium.
Click here to read more.