Rep. Chris Stewart says he always has been and always will be a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and a person’s “fundamental constitutional” right to legally own a firearm.
But, in a video posted Monday to the Utah Republican’s Facebook page, Stewart said he felt heartbroken and angry over the evil displayed last weekend in the form of mass shootings in Texas and Ohio that left more than 30 people dead and dozens injured.
“For two years, I have supported legislation that would have taken weapons out of the hands of those who are mentally incompetent of dealing with them,” Stewart said. “That’s one of the things we absolutely have to focus on now.”
The type of legislation Stewart is referring to is known as an extreme risk protection order or “red flag” law. Enacted in several states and increasingly debated at the federal level, red flag laws allow a court to order people’s weapons to be seized if and when they are found to be a danger to themselves or others.
President Donald Trump on Monday mentioned red flag legislation as a potential response to the most recent shootings, which occurred at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and at a bar in downtown Dayton, Ohio. A Trump ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, has indicated plans to sponsor legislation that would incentivize states to enact extreme risk protection orders.
In a prepared statement, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said proposals like Graham’s could provide law enforcement and a person’s family with important tools to mitigate risks.
“I support the goal of these proposals," Romney said, “and believe the Senate should vote on them.”
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, noted his previous work on federal red flag legislation in his statement reacting to the weekend shootings.
“I’ve held school safety summits in Utah, co-sponsored red flag legislation to keep guns away from people we all agree should not have them,” Curtis said. “I continue to stand ready to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find real, good-faith solutions to these devastating problems.”
Last September, Curtis was one of six co-sponsors of HR6747, the Protecting Our Communities and Rights Act of 2018. Another five representatives later signed onto the legislation, which was referred to a committee but has not received a hearing.
In a post to his congressional website at the time, Curtis said the bill would empower communities with new tools to prevent gun violence while preserving Second Amendment rights.
“While I am a strong defender of the Second Amendment,” Curtis wrote, “I also strongly believe that we must do more to keep firearms out of the hands of violent individuals and the mentally ill.”
Utah lawmakers have twice considered state-level legislation that would have created extreme risk protection orders. In 2018, a red flag bill was debated and ultimately defeated by a state House committee. And in 2019, a similar bill failed to receive a committee hearing.
A common critique of such legislation is that it must be narrowly tailored to not violate the due process rights of lawful gun owners.
Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, said Monday that he plans to again sponsor a red flag bill during the upcoming legislative session.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said that the state’s elected leaders should continue to pursue a conversation on red flag laws and other potential bills related to gun violence.
"Sometimes these [bills] take some time to get to a point where everybody can feel comfortable that you’re not violating people’s constitutional and civil rights,” Herbert said.
In addition to red flag bills, Stewart’s video included the lawmaker questioning whether the United States is “too steeped in violence" and referring to the content of video games, movies and television.
“A fair question to ask is, ‘Have we surrounded ourselves with too much violence?’ " Stewart said.
Researchers have repeatedly explored that question and to date have found no evidence linking real-world violence to violent video games.
Stewart said too many children live in fear and that people should not be afraid to go to a mall, to school, or to church. And one factor in these violent attacks, he suggested, is that the nation does not adequately “honor life.”
“We don’t honor the sanctity of life like we have in generations past,” Stewart said. “Taken together, if we were to address these concerns, I really think that it would make a difference.”