GOP on defense for gun law vote
‘Red flag’ rule part of $770B military bill
A brief section in the 1,360-page national defense bill approved by the House last month has angered gun rights advocates and put Rep. Stephanie Bice and many other Republican lawmakers on the spot for backing legislation primarily aimed at funding troops and weapons systems.
The controversy stems from provi
sions in the National Defense Authorization Act establishing a system for military judges to issue protective orders when a person feels threatened. The protective orders would, among other things, restrain service members from “possessing, receiving, or otherwise accessing a firearm” while the orders were in effect.
Critics say the provisions are the equivalent of so-called “red flag laws” and “extreme risk protection orders” that some states have approved for civilian courts. Those laws allow judges to order firearms temporarily removed from the possession of a person deemed to pose an imminent threat.
The National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, said in a recent news release that, under the House defense bill, “military personnel could be forcibly disarmed of their lawfully possessed firearms before having so much as an opportunity to contest the accusations against them and present evidence in their defense.”
Bice, R-Oklahoma City, is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, which crafted the defense bill. The bill was approved by the House on Sept. 23 by a vote of 316 to 113. It authorizes nearly $770 billion for the Department of Defense for 2022 and includes a 2.7% pay hike for uniformed personnel.
The provisions angering gun rights groups were co-authored by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who is also a member of the committee, as part of a proposal to deal with domestic violence in the military by creating a system of military protective orders.
In a news release last year, Speier said the protective order system “would provide better protection for those suffering intimate partner violence while requiring (the Defense Department) to track and report to Congress these cases so that we have the data needed to identify and cut out the root of this ongoing problem.”
Gun control advocates say red flag laws have been upheld as constitutional and proven to save lives.
“Extreme risk laws are a precise, evidence-based legal tool to help prevent acts of lethal violence before they occur,” Joshua Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, told the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year.
Bice’s office has received dozens of calls, emails and social media posts complaining about the provisions, which would allow, in some cases, orders constraining gun possession before the subject of the protective order has presented his or her arguments.
Bice’s office posted pictures on Facebook last week of the congresswoman calling constituents to explain her opposition to the provisions.
Responding in writing to a constituent on Facebook, Bice said she voted for the defense bill “because it not only funds our military and defense, but provides salary and benefits for our soldiers and retirees. Providing the resources our service members need to defend our nation and defeat our adversaries is the greatest responsibility we have here in Congress.”
She said there was no opportunity to vote on stripping out the provisions on protective orders but that she would have done so.
“I’ve always opposed red flag laws and am leading the effort to remove that provision from the bill, and am confident it will be removed before the bill is signed into law later this year,” she wrote.
Bice, a freshman who served in the Oklahoma Legislature before being elected to Congress in 2020, voted for a bill in the state Senate last year to prohibit red flag laws at the state and local levels. In her primary campaign for the 5th District congressional seat, Bice emphasized her support of gun rights and the NRA endorsement of her candidacy.
Bice last week spearheaded a letter to bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees urging that the provisions on firearms possession be removed when a final version of the defense bill is written. The letter was signed by nearly 160 Republicans, including Reps. Tom Cole, R-Moore, and Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, who also voted for the defense bill.
Cole, whose district includes Tinker Air Force Base and Fort Sill, said, “I have been assured by House leadership the ‘red flag’ language in the current bill will not be in the final version of the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) that actually becomes law. I have informed my colleagues that I will reconsider my vote if these provisions remain in the legislation.”
The Biden administration has also expressed reservations to Congress about the proposed military protective order system, contained in Section 529 of the bill, though objections are not aimed specifically at the red flag provisions.
“Though the Administration sees great benefit in facilitating victim access to protective orders and maximizing such orders’ effectiveness, the Administration believes that additional time is needed in order to study the military judicial resources implications of the changes proposed in section 529,” the White House said in a Sept. 21 letter to the House.
The White House recommended that a study be completed within one year of the defense bill being enacted, followed by a requirement to develop regulations within two years.