Trump Backs 'Red Flag' Laws That Could Impact Veteran Gun Ownership

Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump speaks about the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Aug. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump speaks about the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Aug. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump said Monday that he supported the so-called "red flag" laws on gun sales and ownership that have drawn criticism for their potential impact on the 2nd Amendment rights of veterans.

In a 10-minute national address, Trump pledged to act "with urgent resolve" to curb gun violence and prevent mass shootings in response to the killings of at least 31 people over the weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. "We can and will stop this evil contagion," Trump said.

"That is why I have called for red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders" to keep weapons out of the hands of those who may pose a risk to themselves or others, Trump said.

Such laws could be used to "identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment, but, when necessary, involuntary confinement," Trump said. "Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun."

He said he had also directed the Justice Department to work with local authorities to develop "tools that can detect mass shooters before they strike."

In the absence of federal red flag laws, at least 16 states and the District of Columbia have enacted their own versions which enable family members or police to obtain court orders blocking access to firearms for those who may be a risk to themselves or others.

The National Rifle Association has generally been opposed to red flag laws. Their passage has also raised concerns in Congress about the potential impact on the 2nd Amendment rights of veterans who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress or had a third-party fiduciary appointed to manage their benefits.

Last month Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tennessee, the ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Rep. Colin Petersen, D-Minnesota, a member of the committee, introduced a bill called the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act.

The bill would prevent veterans from losing their ability to buy or own a firearm when the Department of Veterans Affairs approves having a third-party help manage their benefits.

"Just because a veteran has someone manage their VA benefits, shouldn't disqualify them from owning a firearm." Petersen said in a statement. "This bill will ensure that veterans rights are protected by due process."

In March, Roe opposed a bill that passed in the House to expand background checks, arguing that it would restrict the 2nd Amendment rights of veterans with mental health problems.

At a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees, and later on the House floor, Roe said that a clause in the House gun control bill could affect more than a million veterans.

He said that the clause would make it illegal for anyone to possess firearms who has been "adjudicated with mental illness, severe developmental disability, or severe emotional instability."

"To put this in perspective, there are over 1.6 million disabled veterans with a service-connected adjudication by VA of mental illness, including one million veterans with PTSD," he said.

The Senate has yet to take up the House bill on background checks. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, on Sunday called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to bring the Senate back from the August recess to vote on the House bill on background checks.

Following Trump's national address, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said he would introduce legislation to set up a federal grant program to encourage more states to adopt red flag laws.

A spokeswoman for Republicans on the House Veterans Affairs Committee said via e-mail that the Roe-Petersen bill would not conflict with red flag laws since both would require a judicial authority to rule on whether an individual could own or buy a firearm.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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