Stefanik to vote no on bipartisan gun deal

Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, speaks at a pro-police press conference on Aug. 5, 2020, in front of the Jefferson County Court building in Watertown. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

WASHINGTON — Rep. Elise M. Stefanik plans to vote against a bipartisan gun control bill, which the Senate is likely to pass this week, if it reaches the House.

The bill was drafted by 20 senators — half Republicans and half Democrats — after two recent mass shootings. The racist attack on May 14 at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo killed 10 Black people. Ten days later, a former student killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Stefanik called the bill a “blatant government overreach” that would make gun owners “second-class citizens.” Instead, Stefanik said she would advocate for increased mental health resources.

“I will continue to stand up for Second Amendment rights against this legislation that shreds the Constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans with no effect on deterring criminals who do not follow the law when obtaining firearms,” Stefanik wrote in a statement.

The 10 Republican senators who helped draft the bill said in a joint statement with Democrats that their legislation “will save lives and will not infringe on any law-abiding American’s Second Amendment rights.”

The bill has bipartisan support in the Senate and is likely to pass there. It was approved for a full Senate vote by 14 Republicans, all 48 Democrats and two independents.

Democrats have a majority in the House, so it is likely the bill will pass and reach President Joseph R. Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

Matthew F. Putorti, a Democrat running against Stefanik for her House seat, said the congresswoman’s explanation for voting against the Senate bill is “characteristically inflammatory and incorrect.”

“Stefanik shamefully continues to put her career and campaign fundraising ahead of the safety of the communities she was elected to represent,” Putorti wrote in a statement. “It is past time for all of our elected leaders to have the courage to stand up to the gun lobby and do what it will take to protect American lives.”

But he said the Senate bill is just “an important starting place.”

“We must do more,” Putorti wrote. “In Congress, I will support legislation implementing common sense measures that the vast majority of Americans favor: universal background checks, closing gun show loopholes and a federal assault weapons ban.”

Putorti called gun violence a “national public safety epidemic.”

Matt Castelli, a Democrat running for Stefanik’s seat, said he supports the Second Amendment and this Senate bill.

“The bipartisan gun safety legislation expected to pass the Senate will help keep kids and communities safe by focusing on measures that are widely agreed upon by lawful gun owners and those of us who support the Second Amendment, including new funding for mental health and school safety, cracking down on illegal trafficking and measures to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers and those who pose a danger to themselves or others,” Castelli wrote in a statement. “While the bill has wide bipartisan support, including from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Elise Stefanik has once again rejected common sense solutions, putting her extremism and financial self-interest ahead of the safety and security of our kids and our communities.”

Lonny W. Koons, a Republican running to challenge Stefanik in an Aug. 23 primary election, could not be reached for comment.

The bill would provide $750 million in crisis prevention grants for states with red-flag laws. These laws allow courts to temporarily take guns away from people who are deemed a threat to themselves or others following a request from family, friends or law enforcement.

Stefanik opposes this.

“This bill contains unconstitutional gun control provisions and allows the implementation of red flag laws that take away due process rights,” she wrote. “It would restrict men and women who are able to serve in our military from purchasing a firearm.”

Stefanik said this bill “would strip the Constitutional rights of gun owners by broadening the scope of punishment for even nonviolent misdemeanors.”

These grants would not be for states without red-flag laws — which is meant to encourage more states to adopt these red-flag laws — but the bill offers some grants for states that create mental health and drug courts.

Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have red-flag laws, including New York.

Earlier this month, Stefanik co-sponsored two Republican bills on gun and school safety and opposed a Democratic bill on firearm restrictions.

Stefanik voted against the Protecting Our Kids Act, which passed the House with Democratic support. This bill would raise the federal age to buy semiautomatic weapons to 21, ban large-capacity magazines and establish new federal criminal offenses for gun trafficking and illegal gun sales, targeting “ghost guns,” or guns that don’t have a serial number to track.

She co-sponsored the Firearm Proficiency and Training Act, which would allow people who take firearm training courses or purchase gun safety or storage equipment to deduct those expenses from their federal taxes at the end of the fiscal year.

She also co-sponsored the STOP II Act, an update to the 2018 STOP School Violence Act. This bill would put $7 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief funding toward grants to make schools more difficult to attack.

This process — which Stefanik calls “hardening schools” — would involve funding for school resource officers, mental health counselors, active shooter trainings, metal detectors and cameras.

In 2017, Stefanik voted to pass the Fix NICS Act, which improved the National Instant Background Check System to allow information on gun owners to be better shared between agencies. That year, she also voted for the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which allows someone with a permit for a concealed handgun to carry that gun across state lines legally.

What else is in the Senate bill?

The bill would expand background checks for young gun buyers between the ages of 18 and 21 by extending the waiting period for a purchase by several days to allow more time for states to review records on juveniles, which have been sealed in the past. It also incentivizes states to unseal more records on young gun buyers, which would be used to determine if someone that age is suitable to buy a gun.

The bill would also increase penalties for people convicted of gun trafficking — including people who buy guns for another person. These charges would carry lengthier sentences — up to 15 years for an illegal purchase and up to 25 years if the gun is used for terrorism, trafficking or another felony.

The bill would close the “boyfriend loophole” in a law preventing convicted domestic abusers from owning a gun.

Currently, people convicted of domestic violence can still purchase firearms if they are not married to, living with or have a child with the person they abused. The Senate bill would update the language to include “dating relationships,” which are defined as “a relationship between individuals who have or have recently had a continuing serious relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.”

The bill allows for these restrictions to expire after five years if the convicted domestic abuser can keep their record clean.

The bill also includes $1.05 billion for school education and engagement improvement; $500 million for school mental health grants; $500 million for school mental health trainings; $28 million for school trauma support; $80 million for rapid mental health care from pediatricians; $60 million for pediatrician mental health trainings; $50 million for school mental health grants through the Children’s Health Insurance Program; $150 million for suicide crisis hotlines; and $250 million for community mental health organizations.

The total cost of the bill is estimated by senators to be $15 billion, which they say is already paid for in this year’s budget.

The bill would not ban assault rifles or require universal background checks.

The Senate is split between the two major political parties, but there appears to be enough GOP support to potentially pass the bill. It has received support from both Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. McConnell called it “common-sense” legislation.

Though bills have been proposed over the years, Congress has not passed gun control legislation since 1994, when it passed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004.

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