Opinion Pieces

Our bipartisan bill might have stopped the Parkland shooting

Originally published in The Hill 03/06/2018

We are full of grief for the 17 lives lost in Parkland, Fla., last month. As representatives of communities – Isla Vista, Calif.; Newtown, Conn.; and Alexandria, Va. – which have been the site of major mass shootings, we are keenly aware that their loss is shared by too many families across the country every year. Nationally, the epidemic of gun violence claims tens of thousands of American lives every year.

But those of us who have fought in Congress for years for gun reforms – for too little progress – now see a ray of hope. The courageous voices of America’s young people have driven home the urgency of this problem to many of our colleagues and created a moment in which action is possible.

We are strong proponents of measures long backed by gun violence prevention activists, including funding for research into the causes of and potential solutions to gun violence at the Centers for Disease Control, and requiring background checks for every gun sale. In addition to these popular ideas, we have another, less well-known proposal to save lives which has growing support from conservatives and gun advocates.

The young man who killed so many in Florida sent so many signals to his family and community, to the school which expelled him, and to law enforcement that he was dangerous. He threatened people with guns, posted menacing messages online, and behaved in ways that led to authorities being alerted that he might pose a danger multiple times. None of these signs of danger stopped him from bringing an AR-15 rifle to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and opening fire. The legal options available to police in states like Florida aren’t good enough to stop these tragedies.

So we have introduced a bipartisan bill that would give families and law enforcement a legal tool to prevent mass shootings.

The Gun Violence Restraining Order Act would empower families and authorities to act on the warning signs that so often come just before someone decides to take a life. Experts argue that legislation like ours could have prevented the Parkland shooting, if it had been in place.

Five states already have gun violence protections order statutes on the books. In Connecticut, a Duke University study shows gun violence restraining orders are already saving lives. In California, which passed its gun violence restraining order (GVRO) law more recently, the San Diego City Attorney’s Office issued 10 gun violence restraining orders earlier this month following highly credible threats of gun violence, suicide and danger to children.

GVROs, also called extreme risk protection orders in some states, are particularly effective at preventing suicide, the leading cause of gun deaths in the United States. By allowing family members to petition a judge to remove guns from loved ones going through a time of crisis, GVROs allow law enforcement to get guns out of the hands of people who pose a threat to themselves or others.

Our bill also ensures that any gun owner subject to a GVRO gets fair legal treatment with full due process. That is, in part, why this concept has been endorsed in the past week by leading conservatives including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, and David French of the National Review.

Last week, President Trump and Vice President Pence, also supported the implementation of GVROs, which are currently law in the vice president’s home state of Indiana.

The Gun Violence Restraining Order Act is the kind of practical idea which Americans would broadly support, which would receive enough bipartisan support in Congress to pass into law, and most importantly, which would save American lives if enacted.

Carbajal represents California’s 24th District. Esty represents Connecticut’s 5th District and Don Beyer represents Virginia’s 8th District.