Lawmakers discuss 'red flag' laws at gun control hearing

By  | 

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate held a hearing on gun control Tuesday. They were looking at red flag laws that have been put in place in states like Vermont. The contentious issue led to questions about a person's constitutional rights.

"Would you agree that it would be inappropriate to deprive U.S. citizens of their constitutional rights even temporarily without robust due process protection?" asked Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

How to strengthen gun control without infringing on the Second Amendment? It's a tough line to walk for Senate Republicans.

"I've looked at the different statutes around the country, the 14 states and the district, who have laws like the ones we're talking about today and they vary quite widely," said Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri.

Tuesday's topic of discussion: red flag laws, which allow "extreme risk protection orders" to take away the firearms of suspects deemed dangerous to themselves or others.

Gun rights advocates say red flag laws run up against the right to bear arms.

"The period when someone is disarmed is a period when they're vulnerable and without good due process protection, these laws can be abused," said David Kopel, the research director at the Independence Institute.

Sen. Patrick Leahy pointed to the gun rules signed into Vermont law last year by Republican Gov. Phil Scott, which not only put red flag laws into use but limited magazine size for semi-automatic rifles.

"In my state, they limit semi-automatic, I think two or three, three or four rounds during deer season to give the deer a chance. I'd like to see children given a chance in their schools," said Leahy, D-Vermont.

While many on the committee pointed to mental illness as a cause for gun violence in the U.S., they were warned against painting mental illness with a broad brush.

"Four percent of violence in this country is attributable to mental illness. That means 96 percent of violence is not. So if somehow we were miraculously able to cure mental illness, which we're far from being able to do at this point, we would not be appreciably reducing violence," said Ronald Honberg, a senior policy advisor for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

If red flag Laws are adopted at the federal level, gun rights advocates say they'd like to see:

-Legal counsel provided for the accused.

-Robust civil remedy for the falsely accused.

-Extreme risk protection orders issued only when necessary and not by default.

"When a bill says it's about 'extreme risk,' then the standard should be of finding 'extreme risk,'" Kopel said.

Ultimately, Senator Leahy says talking about the problem will only accomplish so much.

"There's lobbies one way or another on this issue. Let's bring the issues up and vote on it. Vote 'em up or down," Leahy said.

Gov. Scott signed Vermont's new gun laws after a foiled plot to shoot up Fair Haven Union High School.