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A Closer Look At The 3 Gun Control Bills Congress Is Tackling This Week

Lisa Dunn
The House Judiciary Committee is slated to discuss three bills on gun regulations after the congressional recess.

Following a series of high-profile shootings this summer, many have called on Congress to respond to mounting public pressure and enact new gun regulations after returning from the summer recess.

This week, the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee will take a first step. The committee is scheduled to mark up several new gun control bills that were introduced earlier this year.

The three bills

During the markup period, members can offer amendments to each bill, and then debate and vote on those amendments. Here’s a closer look at each of the three bills the House Judiciary Committee is marking up:

HR 1186 or the“Keep Americans Safe Act”

This bill was introduced back in February by Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., who represents Parkland, Florida, which includes Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of a mass shooting in February 2018.

HR 1186 would ban the sale, transfer or possession of any high-capacity magazine (HCM) or other ammunition feeding devices that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. On Aug. 4, a shooter in Dayton, Ohio, killed nine people and injured 27 in just 30 seconds, using a 100-bullet drum magazine, which was attached to his AR-15-style weapon.

Since the “Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act” expired in 2004, there is no federal law banning high-capacity magazines. However, nine states and Washington, D.C., have passed laws restricting magazine capacity.

Research on the effectiveness of HCM bans is mixed. A 2004 Justice Department reporthighlighted that most murder victims are killed with fewer than 10 shots.

Butan analysis done for CNN in 2017 by Michael Siegel of Boston University found that states with high-capacity magazine bans had lower rates of mass shootings.

HR 1236 or the “Extreme Risk Protection Order Act of 2019”

Introduced in February by Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Calif., this bill would use a federal grant program to incentivize states to pass so-called “red flag” laws. These allow family members and law enforcement to petition the courts to temporarily remove firearms from high-risk individuals. These laws are also called Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., are said to be working on their own version of such a bill that, like this House bill, would incentivize states to pass ERPO legislation.

There is no federal “red flag” or ERPO law, though 17 states and Washington, D.C., have passed their own versions of these laws. There is limited research on the effects of these laws on gun homicides. However, a recent study found the laws were associated with reducing suicides in two states that have had them in place for years: Connecticut and Indiana. There is also recent research from the University of California, Davis that finds these laws may help prevent mass shootings.

H.R. 2708 or the “Disarm Hate Act”

Introduced in May by Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., this bill would ban gun sales to any person who has been convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime or received an enhanced sentence because of hate or bias.

Currently, federal law only bans the sale of guns to people convicted of hate crime felonies. But at least three states have laws that ban sales of guns to people convicted of certain hate crimes: Minnesota, Oregonand New Jersey.

There are no studies that specifically look at the effectiveness of these hate crime gun laws and experts estimate that only a small fraction of hate crimes involve misdemeanors. But a recent studyfound that violent misdemeanor laws in general were associated with an almost 30% reduction in gun homicide rates.

What are the chances for any of these bills?

The chances of these three bills becoming law seem unlikely, given the current make-up of the GOP-led Senate, where a filibuster-proof majority is needed for passing new gun laws. Two background check bills passed by the House in February have been languishing in the Senate ever since. However, a federal “red flag” bill could be an exception.

And President Donald Trump could be a game-changer in this debate.

As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt, he would not put a gun bill on the Senate floor unless Trump said he’d sign it.

And over the weekend, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., reinforced the Senate majority’s stance on NBC’s Meet the Press: “We're not going to vote on bills on the Senate floor that the President is not willing to sign.” Thus far, Trump has not made clear what, if any, gun legislation he would support.

An NPR/PBS/Marist poll from July found that 96% of Democrats and 84% of Republicans favor universal background checks that would include private sales. And a recent Guns & America/APMResearch/Call to Mind surveyfinds that more than 70% of Americans (and 67% of gun owners) support so-called “red flag” or ERPO laws.

Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.

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