Republican Senator Doubts "Red Flag", Background Check Bills Will Become Law

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee, says it’s unlikely we’ll see Senate passage of any gun control legislation, including “red flag law” proposals and bills aimed at expanding background check requirements.


The Wisconsin Republican said that a background checks measure based on the bill written by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and a national “red flag” bill are both unlikely to pass. He was open to GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham’s bill that would establish a red flag grant program, but said the Senate would need to “attach to those grants very strict guidelines in terms of due process.”

“I really don’t see the dynamic having really changed there much,” Johnson said of an effort to strengthen background checks during gun sales, which generally polls at around 90 percent. “I don’t anticipate we’re going to pass a federal red flag law.

“There are a lot of downsides to passing more legislation that doesn’t do anything positive,” Johnson added.

Now, this is just one senator, and in fact Politico goes on to quote Indiana Republican Mike Braun, who says Senate Republicans need to do something (emphasis on something).

“We need to do something to show that we’re doing something rather than just kicking it down the road,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who has spoken to Toomey and believes McConnell is open to putting something on the floor if it can become law.

While a number of Republicans like Braun have expressed some openness to new gun regulations, enhanced background checks will struggle to attract 60 votes in the Senate, where it will need at least 13 GOP supporters. Red flag legislation also divides Republicans, with some already saying they have yet to see anything they would support.

“I’m going to look at everything we looked at — everything,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) told reporters last week. “I’m a Second Amendment supporter. I’m a member of the NRA. So I’m not … taking away people’s guns.”


With all due respect to Sen. Braun, politicians don’t need to “do something”. If they’re going to act, they need to do something that works, and the Manchin/Toomey background check proposal unfortunately suffers from a lack of enforceability. Once a gun has entered the hands of a private citizen, the government can’t possibly know when there’s a secondary transfer from one privat citizen to another.

Think of it this way. I live in Virginia, where we have a state monopoly on liquor stores. Every time I pick up a bottle of bourbon, I show my ID to the clerk behind the counter, as is required under state law. Once I leave the store with that bottle, however, how would the state know what I’m doing with that bourbon? Imagine trying to enforce a law that required you to show ID before your buddy could offer you a drink at the neighborhood cookout.

Manchin/Toomey is not a true “universal background check” bill, since it applies to private sales that originate at gun shows or online. That doesn’t make it any more enforceable, however. It’s a “do something” measure that is meant to help politicians, not the general public, and frankly, I don’t know of a single Democrat beyond Joe Manchin (maybe Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema) who’d even settle for anything less than a full “universal background check” bill. Heck, even Manchin called it a first step, not an end goal.


We’ll see what happens in a few weeks, but I’d say it’s a good sign that Ron Johnson doesn’t believe any gun control legislation has the votes to pass the Senate right now. Make sure you’re continuing to politely and civilly engage with your U.S. Senators over the next several weeks though, because clearly there’s still an appetite among some on the Hill to “do something” when it comes to gun control.



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