Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who represents Northwest Florida in Congress, is talkng with constituents during the August congressional recess, and says many are concerned about potential legislative action on guns.
FORT WALTON BEACH — As U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz meets with his Northwest Florida constituents during the August congressional recess, he's discovering a "general uneasiness" regarding potential legislation on guns.
That uneasiness, Gaetz said earlier this week, is based on concerns that any legislation introduced in Congress might unduly restrict law-abiding people from purchasing firearms.
The House of Representatives has passed legislation aimed at strengthening background checks for gun purchasers, but those proposals have languished in the Senate.
Gaetz voted against two measures that passed the House, one of which would require background checks on all gun sales, including private-party online transactions and gun show sales. The other measure to get his "nay" vote would increase the time allotted to the FBI for background checks from three days to 10 days.
Talking about his conversations with constituents on gun control — in one instance, two men approached him on a local beach to talk about the issue, he said — Gaetz said he favors "red flag" laws, calling them "far preferable" to legislation regarding background checks.
"Red flag" laws, also called "extreme risk" measures, are already in place in 17 states, including Florida and in Washington, D.C. They allow courts to temporarily ban someone from having a firearm if they exhibit signs of posing a danger to themselves or to others. In most instances, the laws set limits on who can report someone exhibiting such signs.
Florida's law, for instance, which Gaetz said could serve as a model for federal legislation, allows only law enforcement officers to petition a judge to take firearms away from a potentially dangerous person. But in the wake of the recent shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, two Democratic state legislators — Sen. Lori Berman of Delray Beach and Rep. Richard Stark of Weston — are continuing their work to expand the list of people who can report problematic behavioral signs to include parents, siblings, grandparents and others.
In defending his position on "red flag" laws, Gaetz noted that the guns used in the Dayton shooting and in last year's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland were obtained legally. He conceded, though, that in crafting "red flag" laws, "the devil is in the details."
Gaetz is a staunch supporter of President Trump, who has also called for "red flag" legislation to help curb gun violence.
In a televised statement following the Dayton and El Paso shootings, Trump called for "real bipartisan solutions."
"We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms, and that if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process," he said.