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‘Red Flags’ and Background Checks: A Look at America’s Far-reaching New Gun Control Law

Though the legislation was approved by Congress with the votes of more than 10 Republican senators, Biden said it still does not cover everything he hoped for
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights' related issues, politics, tech and society.
Published: July 5, 2022
First Lady Jill Biden looks on as U.S. President Joe Biden signs the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act into law, inside the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on June 25, 2022. (Image: STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

After a spate of highly publicized mass shootings, and with bipartisan Senate support, U.S. President Joe Biden on June 23 signed into law the most significant gun control legislation in nearly 30 years. 

Named the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the Biden administration has claimed the new reform bill will “help save lives” from gun violence. 

The bill comes after 19 children and two teachers were killed in Uvalde, Texas on May 24, and another shooting that took place on Monday, July 4 when a gunman opened fire from a rooftop during Independence Day celebrations in Chicago — killing 8 and wounding over 70.

What will the bill cover?

  • Tougher background checks for young buyers under the age of 21
  • $15 billion in federal funding for programs that support mental health awareness and security upgrades in public schools
  • Additional funding to encourage the implementation of “red flag” laws that aim to remove firearms from individuals who exhibit violent tendencies or are otherwise considered a “threat”
  • Terminating “boyfriend loopholes” — a term that refers to a gap in U.S. gun legislation which allows access to guns by physically abusive ex-partners or stalkers with previous convictions. The new bill will ban all people with previous domestic abuse charges from owning a gun — not just those who are married to victims or live with them

And while the legislation comes as welcome news for Americans who believe stricter gun laws should exist, Biden said it still does not cover everything he would have liked. “While this bill doesn’t do everything I want, it does include actions I’ve long called for that are going to save lives,” he said on June 25. 

Gun safety and human rights groups have lauded the new legislation as a step in the right direction, and are capitalizing on the bill’s passage as a gateway to call for more limits on guns, including a nationwide ban on semi-automatic, so-called “assault weapons.”

Unlike the similar-sounding “assault rifle” — a rifle capable of firing more than one bullet with a single pull of the trigger — “assault weapon” is a nebulous term used by numerous media and politicians to label certain firearms, such as the iconic AR-15 or AK-47. 

The AR-15, a civilian, semi-automatic version of the rifle designed for the U.S. military, was the type of weapon used in the Uvalde shooting, and also the kind of rifle wielded by Kyle Rittenhouse in summer 2020 when he shot dead two rioters after being attacked.

‘Red flags’

“At the very least, the age at which they can buy these [semi-automatic weapons] should be raised,” Joseph Taecker-Wyss, program associate at New York’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence said. 

The suspects in both the Uvalde and Chicago shootings were young men aged 18 and 22 who legally purchased the firearms they used in the killings. The Texas shooter is believed to have bought two semi-automatic rifles just days after turning 18.

“I think if this young man’s background had been part of the background check system, nobody would have ever believed that he should buy firearms,” Sen. John Cornyn, (R-Texas) told NBC News on May 28, adding that, “But because when he turned 18 essentially everything that happened before he was 18 was not available to the background check system, he was able to pass it.”

But others have warned that the “red flag” laws could be exploited to target gun owners unfairly — essentially depriving them of due process. Weeks before the bill’s passage, conservative commentator Tucker Carlson explained in his Fox News program how such regulations open up a slippery slope.

“Police in Rhode Island had seized the personal firearms of a 68-year-old man whose wife had called in a complaint against him after they had an argument,” Carlson recounted the Caniglia vs Strom case from 2021 that reached the Supreme Court.

The high court’s verdict was a unanimous 9-0 decision.

“That man had committed no crime. He’d never been convicted of a crime, and he was judged by doctors to be sane. And yet the [Rhode Island] authorities took away his guns anyway.”

“Red flag laws seem like one of those ideas that no decent person could possibly oppose,” Carlson said on June 13

However, “Under red flag laws, the government doesn’t have to prove you did anything wrong in order to strip you of your most basic rights. All that’s required to punish you is a complaint, possibly even an anonymous complaint in which somebody says you seem dangerous.”

MORE ON THE UVALDE SHOOTING:

​​The last significant federal gun control legislation was passed in 1994 during the Clinton administration. As part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the bill banned the manufacturing of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines for civilian use. However, after that bill expired a decade later, mass shootings in the country began to spring up again. 

On June 23, the Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS) struck down a New York law that places restrictions on who can carry a concealed handgun outside the home. The law, which was enacted over a century ago, will effectively expand gun rights and will allow gun-owners to carry concealed firearms in public.

“Because the State of New York issues public-carry licenses only when an applicant demonstrates a special need for self-defense, we conclude that the State’s licensing regime violates the Constitution,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the court’s 6-3 majority ruling. 

Following the decision, Biden said in a statement that he was “deeply disappointed” with SCOTUS, and said the ruling “contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should deeply trouble us all.”