It's an illustration of how unreasonable congressional Republicans are on gun control that growing GOP support for a "red-flag" measure to prevent demonstrably dangerous people from getting firearms is being hailed as a bipartisan breakthrough. The proposal is the tiniest of gestures in the right direction, a sliver of what needs to be done. But the fact that some Republicans are now willing to do even that much must be defined as progress.
Democrats should work with them to get it passed — with the understanding that this baby step won't be allowed to stand as a substitute for universal background checks, ammunition and magazine limits and other, tougher measures that still need to happen.
The red-flag proposal would encourage states to implement policies allowing "extreme-risk protection orders" barring specific people from possessing guns if family members can show the person poses imminent danger. That's distinct from current rules that bar certain people from having guns only if they've already been convicted of crimes. The protection orders would have set time limits.
The measure isn't perfect. It's not clear that either of the two shooters who killed a combined total of 31 people in El Paso and Dayton earlier this month would have been flagged by such a system. That would have depended on the vigilance of their relatives.
And even if they were flagged, the private-sale loophole that Republicans insist on keeping in place would have enabled them to buy their guns from private dealers with no background check in the same way felons can buy them now. Those buyers are breaking the law, but there's no way for the seller or anyone else to know that, since no background check is required on private sales.
Still, the red-flag proposal has the backing of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and a growing number of other top Senate Republicans, and President Donald Trump has indicated support. That alone may make it worth pursuing, if only for the value in symbolism and precedent.
The National Rifle Association's insidious campaign against sane national gun policy is rooted in a never-give-an-inch strategy, opposing even the lightest gun control. The GOP has, until now, obediently toed that line. If Republicans break ranks, even for a measure as mild as this one, it's a tacit admission of an undeniable fact that they have previously denied: Guns are getting into the wrong hands, and that needs to be stopped before, rather than after, mass shootings.
From there, it's difficult to deny the necessity of legislation requiring universal background checks, which has passed the House but is stalled by Senate Republicans. The principle is the same: Guns must be kept from people who shouldn't have them. If Republicans truly are on the cusp of acknowledging that with more than just lip service, it's a welcome sea change.
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