IOWA CITY, Iowa – President Joe Biden faces an uphill battle as he tries to revive a push for more state laws that would allow authorities to temporarily disarm people who are considered a danger to themselves or others.
The political circumstances surrounding this year's effort are drastically different than they were three years ago, when state lawmakers, governors of both parties and former President Donald Trump embraced the extreme-risk protection orders after the 2018 mass shooting that killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
Officials in Florida and several other states quickly adopted so-called red flag laws, hailing the court-ordered removal of guns from people judged to be dangerous as a way to prevent suicides, domestic violence and mass shootings. Trump’s commission on school shootings in December 2018 recommended that other states follow suit.
But momentum for the legislation has stalled after intense pushback from gun rights activists, increasing opposition from rank-and-file Republicans and key defeats for Democratic supporters of gun control in the November elections. Critics argue the laws can strip people of their right to bear arms based on unproven accusations, even as evidence mounts that they save lives.
Biden announced last week that his administration would publish model legislation in the next 60 days to encourage more states to pass red flag laws. His administration also is urging Congress to approve legislation giving states incentives to pass them, which could include millions of dollars in grant funding for implementation.
Still, advocates say they do not expect many, if any, of the 31 states without those laws to adopt them this year.
“We are now pushing against somewhat of a wall. The easier targets have been done,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, which has played a key role in modeling the laws after domestic violence restraining orders. “But we’re in it for the long haul. I'm confident that in 20 years, this will be almost everywhere.”
Horwitz said the laws in many states are still new, and he is working to educate local officials on how to use them. He said a federal grant program to incentivize implementation would be a great step, and he is urging lawmakers not to wait for tragedies to act.