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Rep. John Katko drafting 'red flag' bill to remove guns from dangerous people

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U.S. Rep. John Katko

U.S. Rep. John Katko will unveil legislation in the next few days to encourage states to adopt so-called "red flag" laws, which would establish a process for confiscating guns from individuals considered threats to themselves or others.

Katko, R-Camillus, announced his plan during a telephone town hall meeting Tuesday night. The specifics of the bill weren't immediately available, but he said the measure would create a grant program to help states establish red flag laws. 

Red flag laws have been adopted or introduced in several states, including New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo rolled out a proposal that would prevent dangerous individuals from buying or possessing firearms. 

Now, Katko is proposing similar legislation at the federal level. 

"It's going to allow law enforcement to get the guns out of hands of people that shouldn't have them because they are exhibiting signs of extreme risk of violence," he said. 

The bill wouldn't allow officers to confiscate guns without a warrant, Katko explained. While it protects the Second Amendment rights of gun owners, it also ensures family members or law enforcement can request an order from a judge to remove guns if an individual poses a serious threat to themselves or other people. 

There is growing support for red flag laws, especially after the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. The shooter, who killed 17 people, was known to police and had threatened to carry out a school shooting in the years leading up to the attack. A year before the shooting, the perpetrator legally purchased an AR-15, a semiautomatic rifle. 

An incident in central New York also motivated Katko to introduce a red flag proposal. He referred to an unspecified incident in Auburn involving an individual who was "very unstable" and threatened to commit a mass shooting. Police responded to his home and officers were able to get him out of the house. 

After the man was arrested, he was evaluated by a mental health professional. In New York, mental health providers can report dangerous individuals to the state if they believe the persons are a threat to themselves or others. If the individuals have pistol permits or own guns, the permits and weapons can be confiscated. 

However, the state doesn't have a red flag-type mechanism in place to have guns removed from a dangerous individual.  

"There should've been in that situation," he said. 

As he developed his bill, Katko said he spoke to Auburn Police Chief Shawn Butler. He also consulted with mental health professionals and his Democratic colleagues in Congress. 

When he formally introduces the bill, he is confident Democrats will sign on as cosponsors. 

Whether the measure can gain support in both houses of Congress is unclear. The National Rifle Association, a leading gun rights group, has opposed state-level red flag laws in the past. But Chris Cox, the NRA's top lobbyist, appeared in a video in March urging Congress to allocate funding for states to implement "risk protection orders." 

There isn't a lot of time for Congress to act on the legislation. The House of Representatives will be in recess for the month of August, and there are limited session days planned before and after the Nov. 6 election. 

Katko, though, is hopeful that the bill will be considered in the final months of the 115th Congress. 

"I think it's going to pick up steam," he said. 


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