Harris proposes gun access limits to combat domestic terrorism

Less than two weeks after the El Paso, Texas, mass shooting and two years after violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, Sen. Kamala Harris on Wednesday released a plan to take on domestic terrorism, by making it harder for suspected individuals to get guns.

The California Democrat’s proposal focuses on two areas where Congress has failed to act: creating a federal “red flag” law and requiring background checks for online gun sales.

“In America, loaded guns should not be a few clicks away for any domestic terrorist with a laptop or smartphone,” the 2020 presidential candidate said in a statement. “We need to take action to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and stop violent, hate-fueled attacks before they happen. By focusing on confronting these domestic terror threats, we can save lives.”

Harris calls her red flag order “Domestic Terrorism Prevention Orders,” a measure that would empower federal courts “to temporarily seize the gun of a suspected terrorist or individual who may imminently perpetrate a hate crime,” according to a proposal reviewed by CNN. Law enforcement or family would be able, under Harris’ plan, to petition a federal court to take that person’s guns away before a hate crime could be committed.

Seventeen states plus Washington, DC, have passed some variation of a red flag law — many did so after the 2018 shooting in Parkland, Florida — but gun violence prevention groups say a uniform federal law would be more effective.

Opponents of red flag laws say the measures allow family or mental health agencies to seize weapons without due process.

Harris’ proposal comes as the federal government grapples with how to address gun violence.

During a Kentucky news radio show interview last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said shoring up both background checks and red flag laws would be “two items that for sure will be front and center” when the Senate reconvenes next month. McConnell, who has refused demands to bring senators back earlier, said he spoke with President Donald Trump and they agreed they wanted results.

Adam Skaggs, chief counsel at Giffords Law Center, applauded Harris’ red flag proposal.

“The advantage of these laws is that they don’t wait until somebody commits an act of violence and then respond with criminal sanctions,” Skaggs said in an interview with CNN. “What they attempt to do is try and stop violence from occurring before it actually does.”

Skaggs shut down the notion that those identified will not have a fair hearing, saying after an inquiry is found credible, those accused have the chance to contest the civil procedure in a hearing.

“Every policymaker in the country, whether they’re running for president or not, should be thinking about how best we can prevent this hate fueled violence from continuing,” he said.

In her proposal, Harris also focused on requiring online websites that sell firearms to perform background checks. She specifically named Armslist.com, a free, classified platform for listing handguns, rifles and ammunition for sale. Gun control groups have criticized Armslist for connecting private sellers to buyers in cyberspace and skirting background checks.

Similar to her previous gun control plan, Harris pledged she will take executive action on these platforms if Congress fails to pass universal background check legislation within her first 100 days as president.

The Brady Center sued Armslist after a Wisconsin gunman, barred from purchasing a firearm, bought a handgun on the site and shot and killed three people. Brady lost the case at the Wisconsin Supreme Court and has appealed.

Armslist could not be reached for comment.

Harris also pledged to expand the power of the National Counterterrorism Center to include addressing domestic terrorism, stating she would seek authority from Congress to expand the agency’s mission.

“The rise of white nationalist extremist violence in America is a terrorism threat, and Harris will treat it as such,” the plan reads.

The Harris proposal also commits $2 billion over 10 years to “investigate, disrupt and prosecute domestic terrorists,” funding resources in the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice.

In the wake of the El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, mass shootings, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have renewed their calls for gun control.

Former Vice President Joe Biden pledged he would push to ban assault weapons if elected president, writing in a New York Times op-ed, “If we cannot rise to meet this moment, it won’t just be a political failure. It will be a moral one.”

At the site of the 2015 Charleston, South Carolina, church massacre, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey passionately pressed his proposal for national licensing of firearms, similar to drivers licenses for cars.

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said his detailed gun violence plan focuses not just on stricter controls and additional funding for combatting domestic terrorism, but in investing in programs to combat hate and limiting the spread of violent extremism on the internet.

Skaggs said it’s promising to see an “unprecedented amount of activity” from the 2020 field on gun violence curbing measures.

“I think it’s absolutely appropriate and welcome that this issue is one that all the candidates are striving to get their hands around and not running away from us as some elected officials have in past years,” he said.