Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the powerful Judiciary committee and a close ally of the President’s – told CNN on Wednesday that his committee will hold a hearing on gun control legislation later this month, a rare move in a Republican-controlled chamber.
The hearing is expected to cover the “extreme risk protection” or “red flag” laws that have been passed in some states and that Graham has supported implementing at a federal level.
The hearing is significant for the GOP-led Senate, a chamber where most Republicans – and many Democrats – have little interest in diving into the polarizing issue of gun control. The hearing would also follow the House of Representative’s passage of a pair of bills improving background checks for gun purchases, bills that have not yet been picked up by the Senate.
“I haven’t really looked at the House package, but this is to me the area where we can come together,” he said on Capitol Hill. He added, “We did a lot on NICS Fix,” a proposal that passed as part of a broader spending package last year that gave financial incentives for states and local governments to submit information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
The hearing will be March 26, Graham said.
The “red flag” law is a bill that would allow federal courts to issue gun restraining orders against potentially dangerous people. Graham worked across the aisle last year with his Democratic colleague Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut on this legislation after the Parkland school shooting but it never became law. The legislation would allow law enforcement officers and family members of a suspicious individual to file a petition with a federal court requesting a protection order that would prohibit that person from purchasing or possessing a firearm. The individual would get a hearing and can protest the order within 72 hours of it being issued. The protection order could then be held in place for up to 180 days and could be renewed if new evidence is presented.
“I think there’s a lot of common ground on enrolling people in the background system who are a danger to themselves or others,” Graham said.
Graham described this concept of red flag protections as “prevention” and said that he has “definitely” spoken with Trump about it.
“Most of these cases have something in common, not all but most: a very disturbed person that people have interacted with before,” he explained. “The Parkland shooting is Exhibit A, the guy did everything except take an ad out in the paper. The FBI got called, local cops got called and nobody did anything. Florida passed red flag law. So what we’re going to do is get people from the country, Arizona has one now and see how they work and see if we can incentivize states to pass legislation to allow police to intervene with family members or police officers are becoming a danger to self or others.”
As a former JAG prosecutor, Graham was quick to add that there will be “plenty of due process” for the person being affected, but called this a positive tool for law enforcement that he views as missing currently in many states.
“We’re trying to drive states to create these laws with certain guidelines to make sure they actually work but to let the states deal with this issue but to incentivize them to do so,” he explained.
Blumenthal, one of the more vocal Democratic voices on gun control, hopes to have Graham sign on as a co-sponsor again, but said that regardless of whether Graham sponsors the bill or not, the fact that he’s open to having a hearing is significant within itself.
“I think his taking this step is profoundly important – not just because it will help advance legislation but it indicates his strong personal sympathy to the idea of a red flag statute,” he told CNN on Wednesday evening.
“I’m deeply hopeful that this hearing will show very dramatically the reasons why a red flag statue saves lives and why it may even have saved the lives of the Parkland students,” Blumenthal said. “We need to continue to show the facts and also why numerous states are adopting red flag statues, including Florida in the wake of Parkland.”
Though Blumenthal doesn’t have quite the cozy relationship with the Trump administration that Graham does, he did say that he has mentioned this red flag legislation before to Vice President Mike Pence when he was on the Senate floor.
The senator said that he was not sure yet who the witnesses would be in the hearing and did not believe they had yet been selected.