Politics & Government

Cruz plan keeps guns away from ‘felons and fugitives.’ Some experts say it’s not enough.

Sen. Ted Cruz is pushing his own version of gun control legislation in the Senate, but gun violence researchers said it’s unclear whether his plan will help prevent mass shootings.

Cruz, a Texas Republican, is pushing the Protecting Communities and Preserving the Second Amendment Act of 2019 this fall, a bill he introduced with Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican. Its prospects are likely to depend on whether President Donald Trump supports the measure, and so far there’s been no word from the White House.

“We should take up and pass [this bill and] focus on how you actually stop these violent crimes, which is going after the violent criminals and stopping them before they commit,” Cruz told reporters at a recent Christian Science Monitor breakfast.

The Grassley-Cruz bill includes provisions to criminalize straw purchasing of firearms, which occurs when someone buys a gun for a prohibited purchaser. It would also ensure that federal agencies efficiently submit records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the national system that gun sales personnel use to verify a purchaser’s criminal history.

The bill would also increase Congressional oversight of the Justice Department’s efforts to prosecute illegal gun sales by having the department explain to Congress why it chooses to prosecute some gun cases and not others.

The bill’s primary purpose, according to Cruz, is to keep firearms out of the hands of “felons and fugitives,” rather than to take away the rights of “law-abiding citizens” to own guns, something he accused state legislators of doing by implementing red flag laws.

“One of the very first pieces of legislation I introduced in the Senate was focused on violent gun crime, stopping gun crime, and the way to do that is you target the bad guys, you target felons and target fugitives. You target those with serious mental illness that makes them a danger to themselves and others,” Cruz said Thursday.

The bill’s fate is now up to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina said that he supports Cruz’s bill, but wants a decision from Trump on the type of gun control legislation the president would sign into law before he moves forward with any gun-related legislation.

Among the supporters is Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky.

“I think that most Republicans support it and I can’t imagine that a few Democrats wouldn’t,” he said.

So far, no Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee have come out in support of Cruz’s bill.

Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama who studies mass shootings, says Cruz’s bill would be effective in preventing mass shootings, but it wouldn’t necessarily be more effective than passing red flag laws, which allow law enforcement to intervene when someone begins to show warning signs for violence or self-harm by taking away their access to guns.

“What about cases where we’re not dealing with what he calls fugitives and felons?” Lankford said. “There are cases where some [mass shooters] have not committed a felony yet, but they are saying and doing things that are red flags.”

Another provision of the Grassley-Cruz bill allows for interstate firearm sales and the interstate transportation of firearms.

Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health who studies the impact of state firearm laws on homicide rates and suicide rates across the country, says that part of the bill effectively takes away states’ abilities to regulate firearms within their borders.

“That’s a no-no,” Siegel said. “That does more to undermine the ability of states to protect their citizens than it does to reduce firearm violence.”

Cruz maintained that his plan is more likely to prevent future mass shootings than gun control bills introduced by his Democratic colleagues involving universal background checks, red flag laws, and assault rifle bans. Siegel contested that claim as well.

“If this was something that was being passed in addition to … other laws it would be beneficial,” Siegel said. “As a substitute … it’s not reasonable.”

Siegel cited research that red flag laws, universal background check laws and extreme risk protection order laws are the most effective in reducing homicide rates, including mass shootings.

Extreme risk protection orders formally allow law enforcement to confiscate guns from a person exhibiting warning signs for violence.

“The most important laws that would have the greatest effect would be laws that keep guns out of the hands of people who are at the greatest risk for violence,” Siegel said, referring to extreme risk protection order laws. “If someone is identified who is a direct threat for threatening a mass shooting or showing behavior that raises red flags it gives law enforcement a mechanism to actually disarm that person.”

Lankford argued that the most effective way to prevent mass shootings would be to have multiple gun control laws in place.

“I’m not sure why it’s a competition,” he said. “It’s possible that they could work in conjunction and could prevent a variety of cases.”

Alexandra Marquez is based in Washington, D.C. and is a student at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is an intern working for the McClatchy D.C. Bureau and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.