Text of Senate Gun Bill Released, and Your Rights Are Dangling by a Thread

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Nearly 10 days after a “framework” agreement on additional federal gun laws was reached by a group of 20 members of the United States Senate, the text of the bill was released by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) Tuesday night, and the Senate is currently (as of press time) taking a vote on whether or not to begin debate on the bill – even while analysts are still digesting it.

For those who don’t want to read for themselves or wait for trusted analysts, Murphy posted a tweet thread asking people to “let [him] tell you what it does.”

Pardon us if we’re not going to take Murphy’s word on the bill’s provisions.

According to a cursory reading, here’s what we see that the bill does:

  • Allots more than $100 million to states and tribal authorities in the form of grants to “expand” mental health services, including mental health services delivered on school campuses
  • Expands Byrne JAG grant program to cover implementation of “extreme risk protection orders,” a/k/a red flag laws, with zero framework for that except a cursory, “don’t violate their due process rights” warning
  • Includes juvenile criminal convictions and commitment to a mental health institution (after age 16) as prohibiting factors
  • “Closing” the supposed “boyfriend” (or girlfriend depending on how they identify) loophole by adding even more undefined/loosely defined terminology and stronger penalties
  • Enhances sentencing for “straw purchasers” under federal law
  • (Laughably) goes after drug dealers/cartels for gun running (more on that in an additional piece)
  • Allocates $100,000,000 to the FBI for “salaries and expenses…to meet additional resource needs of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System”
  • Awards $1,400,000,000 (yes, that’s $1.4 billion) to the Department of Justice for “State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance,” $750 million of which is earmarked for Byrne JAG grants
  • $100,000,000 to the FBI to be used “for competitive grants to be administered by the Community Oriented Policing Services Office for purposes authorized under the STOP School Violence Act of 2018”

The text of the bill can be read here.

Now, no one is against students, particularly teenagers, who might be at risk of violently attacking their classmates, receiving necessary mental health care to prevent a horrific outcome.

But why are we including things like DHHS sharing “best practices for delivering telehealth services” to underserved communities, including billing to Medicare/Medicaid, in a gun control bill? Shouldn’t DHHS be doing that as a matter of course, as a matter of streamlining program delivery?

Why are we including directives to ensure that CHIP and Medicare/Medicaid funding pays for things called for in a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in a gun control bill? Shouldn’t that already be happening, and if it isn’t, shouldn’t it be part of its own bill?

Why are we including a provision to “ensure ongoing coordination and collaboration between the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education with respect to the provision of, and payment for, assistance under Medicaid by local educational agencies” in a gun control bill?

This provision stood out to me:

$50,000,000 for fiscal year 2022 for the Secretary to award grants to States for the purpose of implementing, enhancing, or expanding the provision of assistance through school-based entities under Medicaid or CHIP. A State shall not use any grant funds to provide medical assistance, child health assistance, or other health services.

Is that why the Hyde Amendment was such a sticking point? Did they foresee using those funds for abortions? Do we have any confidence whatsoever that those monies will be used to help the students truly at risk for violence? It’s not like we don’t know the profile of a school shooter by now.

As a resident of California, where most terrible laws start and are abused, I read the “extreme risk protection orders” section with great concern. Just because the bill says that procedures have to be in place to ensure that one’s due process and other constitutional rights are protected, that one is entitled to counsel at no charge, has the right to confront witnesses, et cetera, et cetera, doesn’t mean that’s what the state-based laws will actually do in practice. In fact, a provision on page 34 gives it away (emphasis mine):

Such programs must include, at the appropriate phase to prevent any violation of constitutional rights, at minimum, notice, the right to an in-person hearing, an unbiased adjudicator, the right to know opposing evidence, the right to present evidence, and the right to confront adverse witnesses;

An ex parte order can be granted if a judge determines that there is cause for the ex parte hearing, which means that you are not guaranteed notice before your rights are stripped. And, because there are no — zero — guidelines in this bill as to what constitutes a trigger for an extreme risk protection order, the US Senate cannot even debate the pros and cons of those triggers.

The National Rifle Association issued a statement late Tuesday:

The NRA will support legislation that improves school security, promotes mental health services, and helps reduce violent crime. However, we will oppose this gun control legislation because it falls short at every level. It does little to truly address violent crime while opening the door to unnecessary burdens on the exercise of Second Amendment freedom by law-abiding gun owners.

This legislation can be abused to restrict lawful gun purchases, infringe upon the rights of law-abiding Americans, and use federal dollars to fund gun control measures being adopted by state and local politicians. This bill leaves too much discretion in the hands of government officials and also contains undefined and overbroad provisions – inviting interference with our constitutional freedoms.

Decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States in the Heller and McDonald cases make clear that the Second Amendment is an individual constitutional freedom. We will always fight for those freedoms – and the fundamental values we have defended for over 150 years.

This is a blank check to Moms Demand and Everytown, signed by Mitch McConnell and the vast majority of the GOP members of the US Senate. Given that the 10 GOP senators who are part of this Gang of 20 aren’t up for election this year and many are retiring, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that McConnell and a number of Republican senators concocted this plan, allowing 10 members who wouldn’t face an angry electorate this November to take the PR hit.

Every effort must be made to stop this terrible bill from becoming law.

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