GOP lawmaker says 'political pressure' held down Republican vote for bipartisan gun control bill

Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent, noted the gun control bill President Biden signed doesn't implement a federal red flag law or require states to adopt one.

Updated: July 4, 2022 - 8:09am

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Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick says many of his Republican colleagues wanted to support the bipartisan gun control legislation that President Biden signed but felt that they could not due to "political pressure."

Fitzpatrick said he and New Jersey Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer, cochairs of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, are often asked why more lawmakers in Congress aren't centrist and pragmatic.

"And the answer is because the political pressures that exist on the left and the right, coupled with the types of districts that so many people are running in, they feel that there's no support structure in the center," said Fitzpatrick during a discussion organized by the group No Labels. "So many people — I can't tell you how many of my Republican colleagues — wanted to vote for the Safer Communities Act, but they felt that they couldn't due to political pressure, which by the way, is never an excuse, ever.

"But we at least have to do our part to relieve that political pressure to give people an option to know that if they want to be pragmatic, if they want to come to the center and work out a compromise solution on guns or any of these tough issues, that there is a place for them, there's a group of supporters behind them."

Fitzpatrick explained that No Labels wants to build a strong infrastructure for lawmakers in both parties who want to come to the center on more controversial issues like gun policy.

"The DNC and the RNC are mammoth organizations," he said. "They have huge fundraising networks. They have huge volunteer networks. They have a complicated infrastructure, not just in D.C. but built out across all 50 states. And that's what we are trying to build up in the center so that people feel that there is an infrastructure behind them."

Gottheimer echoed Fitzpatrick's comments about the difficulty many lawmakers have working with members of the other party on certain issues. 

"What's always a challenge for our caucus in general is that, you know, the consequences of stepping out are severe," he said.

The discussion turned to the contents of the gun control bill that President Biden recently signed. Gottheimer said lawmakers opposed to the gun control package had concerns about aspects of the red flag provisions.

"Would they be too punitive? Did they go far enough?" Gottheimer said, recalling the concerns he heard.

Fitzpatrick noted that states are not required to adopt red flag laws under the legislation. 

Instead, the bill includes incentives for states to pass red flag laws, similar to the one that passed after the 2018 Parkland mass shooting in Florida.

"Most of the bill is basically funding grant programs," said Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent. "So now it's the job of me and Josh and everybody really to work with our state legislatures, and work with the community foundations, anybody dealing with mental health — because mental health was a big piece of this — to apply for the grants and actually secure the funding. That's the whole point of this. 

"It created a fund for states who choose to pass red flag legislation. So some states are going to choose to do that, and some states will not. But for the states that do it, it's basically taking a carrot and not a stick approach by incentivizing states to adopt red flag laws." 

Fitzpatrick pointed out that several red states, such as Indiana and Florida, have passed red flag bills with Republican legislatures and Republican governors.

"It can be done, and it can be done effectively," he said. "What we did in this piece of legislation was create a funding stream to incentivize states to do it, and if they choose to do it, the funding will be there for it. The rest of it was, a lot ... was mental health, and then expanding the background check systems to be able to prevent a situation like Uvalde, which will give access to minors' mental health records where it otherwise would have been reportable had they not been a juvenile."

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act passed in the aftermath of the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. According to the Texas Tribune, GOP state lawmakers in Texas are unlikely to support the passage of a red flag law, despite Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn's role in negotiating the bill.

Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act alongside first Lady Jill Biden in the Roosevelt Room on June 25. Fitzpatrick said there is supposed to be a second signing ceremony for the bill that lawmakers from both sides of the aisle will attend.

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