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WASHINGTON

GOP Rep. John Katko breaks with party, will vote for bipartisan gun safety bill

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Election 2022 Congress Katko

Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., speaks during a House Committee on Homeland Security meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2020. 

When the House of Representatives votes on the bipartisan gun safety bill, it will have at least one Republican vote. 

U.S. Rep. John Katko said Wednesday that he will vote for the legislation, the product of negotiations between a group of Democratic and Republican senators. The Senate is advancing the bill. Once it passes, it will be sent to the House for consideration. 

"Following the recent tragedies in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde Texas, I said that Congress must develop a thoughtful and substantive response," Katko, R-Camillus, said. "It is my strong belief that this legislation represents a consensus approach to addressing the senseless and depraved acts of violence, and I fully intend to support this measure when it comes to the House floor." 

The gun safety legislation includes $750 million for states to implement "red flag" laws — Katko authored a bill that would encourage states to adopt extreme risk protection orders to remove guns from individuals who are deemed to be a risk to themselves or others. The measure would also strengthen background checks for people ages 18-21 who are attempting to buy a gun, crack down on gun trafficking and close the "boyfriend loophole" to prohibit individuals from having guns when they are convicted of a domestic violence crime against their partner. 

There is also more money for mental health programs and school safety, and those who earn income from selling guns must register as federally licensed firearm dealers. 

Senate Democrats and Republicans, with the support of leadership in both parties, began negotiations shortly after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and the racist attack on a grocery store in Buffalo. There was an agreement reached on a framework last week, but both sides had to finalize the legislation. 

Katko, who opposed the House Democrats' gun safety bill earlier this month, said at the time he was "heartened" by the efforts of the senators who were working on a bipartisan package. 

"As co-chair of the bipartisan House Mental Health Caucus, I am pleased that this legislation makes substantive investments in our nation's mental health system, including policies I have long advocated for to bolster the availability of services in our schools," he said. "Additionally, as a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, I believe that this legislation takes important steps to promote public safety, while also safeguarding the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans." 

In his statement, Katko singled out the red flag provision in the bill. He opposed the House Democrats' red flag proposal because he felt it didn't do enough to preserve due process rights. The bipartisan agreement "takes necessary steps to ensure such safeguards are in place," he said. 

By pledging to support the agreement, Katko is breaking with his party's leadership. House Republican leaders, including U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, oppose the bill. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, blasted the bipartisan measure as "blatant government overreach" that "seeks to make gun owners second-class citizens." 

But Katko believes that Congress needed to act in the aftermath of the mass shootings. He revealed that he had discussions with Democratic and Republican senators working on the gun safety legislation and lauded them for drafting "sensible and bipartisan legislation that will make a real difference in protecting communities in central New York and across the country."

"The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act sends a clear message that Congress can work together to keep Americans safe, and I look forward to doing my part to help send it to the president's desk," he added. 

The Senate is expected to pass the bill this week. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has signaled that the House will vote on it once it clears the Senate. President Joe Biden has said he will sign it when it reaches his desk. 

Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at auburnpub.com.

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