GOP lawmakers join NRA in opposing 'red flag' rule aimed at preventing military suicides

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The policy would prevent gun violence committed by military service members, gun safety advocates say.

House Republicans are promising to do whatever it takes to remove a "red flag" provision in the annual defense authorization bill designed to protect service members against gun violence. On Thursday, the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 on a bipartisan 316-133 vote. GOP members backed the legislation 135-75.

In addition to establishing the framework for the nation's military spending, the bill contains a so-called "red flag" provision that would allow military courts to temporarily disarm members of the armed services who have been deemed an imminent danger to themselves or others.

Several states have enacted similar laws, known as extreme risk protection orders, to keep military members who show clear warning signs from carrying out acts of gun violence. Research has shown that state red-flag rules have reduced suicides among military members and could prevent future mass shootings committed by citizens who "exhibited dangerous warning signs" before their attacks, gun safety advocates say.

Suicides among members of the military have increased in recent years, with 194 deaths in 2020 alone. "The Department of Defense is fully committed to preventing suicides in our military community," the Pentagon wrote in a June report. "Every death by suicide is a tragedy."

The National Rifle Association's lobbying arm has claimed such red flag rules "ignore due process protections afforded by the U.S. Constitution and allow for the confiscation of firearms owned by those in the armed forces." Courts have rejected Second Amendment challenges to extreme risk protection orders in the past.

Several GOP lawmakers have voiced opposition to the "red flag" provision and are working to remove it from the defense spending bill before it reaches President Joe Biden's desk.

On Monday, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) called the provision "poisonous" and insisted it would "not be included in the final bill that the president signs into law later this year."

"After the Senate acts, the House and Senate will conduct a conference committee to reconcile the differences in our two bills," Rogers, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, wrote in a letter. "I have talked with my colleagues in the Senate and I have been assured this red flag provision will not be included in their bill."

Other House Republicans share Rogers' opposition to the protective measure.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), who opposed the bill in part over what he called its "gun-grabbing laws for military men & women," accused his GOP colleagues of making "lame" excuses for voting for a bill with "anti-gun red flag laws."

Rep. Lisa McClain (R-MI) said the federal protection orders would "set a dangerous precedent and infringe on our Second Amendment rights." She voted for the initial defense spending bill but said she would vote against it in reconciliation if the "red flag" provision wasn't removed.

"I do not, and did not, support the inclusion of Red Flag provisions in this year's NDAA," Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA) tweeted. "Though we voted to advance the process, I will continue to help lead the fight to remove Red Flag provisions from the NDAA. I do not anticipate they will be included in the final version."

Not all Republicans share the House GOP's extreme right views on gun violence. In August 2019, after 31 Americans were killed in consecutive mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, former President Donald Trump endorsed red flag laws in a speech.

"We can and will stop this evil contagion," Trump said at the time. "That is why I have called for red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders."

"Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun," he added.

But Trump soon abandoned his promise to take action on identifying warning signs in potential mass shooters. The NRA endorsed Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.