It might seem cynical to put the issue of gun safety in the context of election-year politics.
But here we are.
There are at least two ideas floating around Congress that could make “red flag” laws a reality in all 50 states. These laws allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from a person who has shown a pattern of violence or the threat of violence. In those cases, court-approved restraining orders would let relatives or law enforcement ask a court to bar a dangerous person from having guns. Petitioners could seek an emergency order, then a permanent one.
Florida lawmakers were forced to take the lead, passing a red flag law soon after Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people and injured 17 others in the Feb. 14 gun massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. State legislators and Gov. Rick Scott, otherwise loathe to impose restrictions on gun access, had little choice. Loud, angry and determined students from Parkland and beyond showed up for a showdown in Tallahassee during the legislative session. The students demanded that lawmakers take action, and elected officials complied.
Now, Congress should do the same.
Florida lawmakers, again, are in the lead. A bipartisan bill pushed by Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, along with Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, would give states a variety of financial incentives to tailor their own policies to prevent people deemed a threat from possessing firearms.
In the U.S. House, Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch, of Broward, and Republican Rep. Susan Brooks, of Indiana, are behind legislation that would also provide federal grants to train police to deal with situations in which they encounter mentally ill people who have guns.
The Nelson-Rubio proposal would require court action before weapons are seized. Deutch and Brooks would allow law enforcement to seize the weapons first and go to court within 21 days. Depending on the urgency of a fraught situation, we think immediacy is important. In either case, there must be probable cause.
However, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, are pushing the strongest legislation yet. It would make the red flag policies federal mandates in every state.
Red flag laws have become a soft-pedaling, more-acceptable route to imposing a measure of control in a country in which restricting Americans’ right to own a gun is no-go territory for many conservative lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The deep-pocketed NRA has made sure that Congress ultimately does its bidding, even to the degree that Americans are endangered by guns in the wrong hands. Just a teenager, Nikolas Cruz could legally purchase the semi-automatic rifle he blasted at Stoneman Douglas High School — despite the fact that his troubling behavior had come to the attention of his school, law enforcement and mental-health professionals.
A perpetually polarized Congress is giving bipartisan support to red flag legislation, if only because these laws make sense. President Trump has signaled his backing. The NRA, long opposed to anything that would infringe on gun access, appears to be willing to concede this one. And, during this election year, those Parkland students will still be on the march, this time registering young people to vote nationwide and encouraging them to elect candidates committed to gun reform — and to vote out the recalcitrant. The time, obviously, is right.
We ask: What is Congress waiting for?