Democrats Push Bill They Say Could Have Prevented Parkland Shooting

Measure would provide states grants for passing Gun Violence Restraining Order laws

California Rep. Salud Carbajal and other House Democrats are pushing a bill in the wake of a Florida high school shooting that would reward states that create laws to allow courts to authorize temporary removal of guns when an individual poses a threat to themselves or others. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A group of House Democrats on Friday highlighted a bill they’ve authored that they say could have prevented Wednesday’s mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 dead.

The bill would authorize a federal grant program for states that enact Gun Violence Restraining Order, or GVRO, laws. These statutes allow law enforcement or family members to petition courts to temporarily remove guns from a person’s possession if they pose a threat to themselves or others. If passed, a separate appropriation measure would be needed to provide the funding for the grants.

A handful of states like California and Connecticut have already enacted GVRO laws, but Florida does not have one.

Nikolas Cruz, the person authorities suspect is responsible for the Parkland high school shooting, had shown signs of violent behavior and depression.

Watch: Pelosi and Ryan Address Wednesday’s Gun Violence at Weekly Pressers

California Rep. Salud Carbajal, the bill’s primary author, said a GVRO “could have been a useful tool to address the behavior and temporarily remove guns away from this individual.”

The bill was not drafted in response to the Parkland shooting, however. It was introduced last May and has 50 Democratic co-sponsors but has gone nowhere in the Republican-led Congress.

Carbajal said he’s hopeful that Republican leaders will reconsider advancing the legislation but noted that “to date we haven’t heard or seen anything.”

The National Rifle Association, which Carbajal said “has become synonymous with No Republican Action,” is opposed to the measure because of concerns about due process.

Virginia Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr., one of the bills co-sponsors, said the legislation provides “incredible due process” because the individual subject to the GVRO always has the right to appeal the court’s ruling. The GVRO also only lasts for one year, but the court has the authority to renew it or end it early based on petitions from either side.

“This is really low-hanging fruit, something many states have done,” he said.

GVRO laws are not just helpful in preventing mass shootings, lawmakers said. They would also allow family members concerned about loved ones potentially committing suicide to petition the court to take away their family members’ access to guns.

Carbajal said his sister shot herself with his father’s firearm, and it didn’t take him long after that tragedy to realize that lives could be saved if guns were removed from homes where an individual has shown signs they might want to harm themselves or others.

Warning signs that could be presented to the court as evidence include threats of suicide or violence, substance abuse and repeated acts of self-harm or acts of violence against others, said Lindsay Nichols, federal policy director at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. She helped the lawmakers draft the bill.

House Judiciary ranking member Jerrold Nadler of New York, whose panel has jurisdiction over the measure, said Democrats have requested the majority hold hearings on gun violence or take up bills like this one but Republicans have ignored their calls.

Nadler said Congress should be considering a number of gun violence prevention measures, including one to ban bump stocks, which were used in the Las Vegas mass shooting last year, enhanced background check legislation and an appropriation rider that would eliminate the so-called Dickey amendment that prevents the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using federal money to study gun violence.

But the GVRO grant measure “is a very good start to a systematic assault on mass shootings,” Nadler said.

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