My Statement on the House Firearms Bills and the Ongoing Negotiations in the Senate
For far too many years, in the wake of tragic violent mass shootings, both Congress and the public have reacted with the same cycle of partisan debate and advocacy for proposals that do not have sufficient support to become law. Time and again, this cycle has resulted in nothing getting done.
There is, however, reason to be encouraged by the momentum behind bipartisan talks underway in the U.S. Senate. We should all appreciate the example set by leaders like Senator Murphy and Senator Collins who are working hard to reach an agreement that can deliver progress where there has been so little in the past.
Unfortunately, House leadership has taken a different approach this week, hastily bringing to the floor two partisan legislative packages that stand no chance of becoming law. While a handful of the individual provisions in the two bills before us have the potential to garner bipartisan support, taken as a whole, the bills are too sweeping in their design and fall far short of the support necessary to become law and save lives. I regret that the House did not follow the Senate’s lead and engage in a substantive, bipartisan process that could positively contribute to a final agreement.
Now is not a time for bills we all know will fail. Congress should not simply focus on “doing something” but rather on doing something of substance that can pass into law and will advance the effort to prevent those with violent intent from obtaining or possessing weapons. We do not need to take some types of firearms away from all Americans, but instead we should work to keep all firearms out of the hands of felons and those who have demonstrated that they are at serious risk of committing harm to themselves or others.
For the past several weeks, my team and I have been engaged in helpful talks with the Sportsman Alliance of Maine (SAM), an organization that has played a positive role in the recent work agreed to in the Maine Legislature. I appreciate David Trahan and members of SAM’s board for taking the time to identify acceptable firearm safety solutions that work for our state. We have also valued the conversations we’ve had with the Maine Gun Safety Coalition. While we might not always agree, I have been heartened to see that their organization shares in our focus on getting beyond bills that can’t pass this Congress to making progress with substantive legislation that can.
I am hopeful that the Senate negotiations will result in a bipartisan package that strengthens penalties for illegal straw purchases, makes targeted improvements to the National Instant Background Check System (NICS), and provides federal resources for states to invest in community and school mental health services, safe storage programs, and to implement emergency protection orders similar to Maine’s so-called ‘yellow flag’ law. We have the chance to come together and deliver solutions on firearm safety that have eluded Congress for decades around a bipartisan agreement — much in the way the Maine Legislature has recently — to address firearm safety. I hope we are able to do so. — Congressman Jared Golden (ME-02)
Congressman Golden and his team have engaged in talks with leaders of both the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and the Maine Gun Safety Coalition to identify the path forward to reduce gun violence. Both organizations agree that now is the time to focus on serious proposals that can become law.
“As Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM), I have been working directly with both Senator Collins and Congressman Golden in the effort to advance firearms safety. While the Senate is taking a thoughtful and bipartisan approach, the House has decided to take a more divisive partisan course and put forth a bill that has no chance of becoming law. Congressman Golden’s focus on addressing illegal straw purchases, funding mental health services in schools, safe storage of firearms, and federal resources for initiatives similar to Maine’s bipartisan protective custody law have the best chance of gaining the widespread support needed to pass in the Congress. His vote today was the correct position.” — Dave Trahan, Executive Director, Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine
“The Maine Gun Safety Coalition has worked for over 20 years to support common sense, life-saving gun safety measures at the state and federal level. Despite a seemingly unending tide of gun-involved massacres and losing over 40,000 Americans to gun violence annually, elected officials at the federal level have refused to act. We now have, in these bipartisan Senate negotiations, a very real opportunity to get some of the most important and universally supported gun safety policies into law, and the focus of Congress should be squarely on those provisions. Expanding background checks to cover juvenile history at the federal level will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people here in Maine. Expanding access to and resources for red flag laws and similar emergency provisions will save lives and prevent suicides and mass shootings. Safe storage laws will do the same. We support every and all efforts that will become law and will save lives. We commend those lawmakers, including Representative Golden, for working towards that goal and doing so in a pragmatic and effective manner.” — Geoff Bickford, Executive Director, Maine Gun Safety Coalition
H.R. 7910 consists of seven titles. The congressman outlines his position on each title, and on H.R. 2377 below:
Title I: I do not support raising the age limit to purchase certain types of rifles to the age of 21. Efforts to prevent those with evil intent from causing harm should concentrate on preventing those people — regardless of age — from possessing any weapon. Simply raising the age requirement to purchase semiautomatic weapons leaves a whole host of firearms available to bad actors and, in my opinion, will have no real impact on lessening gun violence.
I also do not believe in restricting access to firearms for 18 to 21 year olds in a nation that enlists young men and women into our armed services and that has a Selective Service registration requirement at age 18.
Title II: This title of the bill is drafted to be overly broad and would criminalize exchanges between otherwise law-abiding citizens. Straw purchases that put guns in the hands of prohibited individuals should be treated as a serious offense. We must do more to create effective measures to catch straw purchases, to prosecute them, and to make the penalties match the gravity of the crime.
Title III: I view this section of the bill as premature and cannot support it at this time. First, the administration has already finalized a new rule that will address privately manufactured firearms and that rule is slated to take effect in August. Before taking further action on this issue, Congress should wait to see how that rule is implemented, if it is effective, and whether or not any unintended negative consequences for law-abiding citizens come about as a result. I would also note that the 129th Maine Legislature’s Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety unanimously dismissed a similar proposal to this one, and during the 130th Maine Legislature, the bill failed to pass in both the House and Senate.
Title IV: Safe storage is an important component of this debate, and it’s one I have led on in this Congress. In 2021 I introduced the bipartisan Responsible Ownership of Firearms Act, which would provide federal money to states for the purpose of implementing safe storage programs. In Maine, State Representative Victoria Doudera advanced a bill last year, now state law, that specifies that unsafe storage of a firearm that results in the endangerment of a child is a crime punishable by up to 364 days in jail and/or a $2,000 fine. Federal money to help states like Maine increase the public’s knowledge about and affordability of safe storage devices would be a helpful complement to this new state law. Unfortunately, this title omits approaches like my bill and would instead supersede Maine state law, increasing punishment for unsafe storage to as much as five years in prison. I think Maine’s approach is the right one.
Title V: In 2018, the Trump Administration passed a rule to ban individuals from owning or selling bump stocks or similarly designed devices that effectively convert a semiautomatic weapon to a machine gun. Given that this rule has been on the books for several years, I see no reason not to enshrine it into law, and I support this title of the bill.
Title VI: As a matter of reducing loss of life, I do not believe that a shooter with criminal intent is significantly less deadly with three five-round magazines than with one 15-round magazine. There may be an acceptable limit to magazine capacity, but I do not support limiting magazines to 10 rounds.
Title VII: This section of the bill requires the Department of Justice to report on the demographic data of persons determined to be ineligible to purchase a firearm based on a NICS background check. I support this title as I think it is helpful to have more data available about the NICS system and how it is functioning.
Tomorrow morning, the House will separately vote on H.R.2377, the Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Act of 2021, which I will also oppose. While I support providing federal money to states for the purpose of implementing red- or yellow-flag laws, including those similar to Maine’s, I do not think we should establish a new and separate red flag process within the federal court system. For these programs to be effective, the policies should be designed and carried out by the states with support from the federal government. I am encouraged to see that the Senate is considering that approach and hope they can arrive at a proposal that provides robust due process protections and strikes the right balance between safeguarding individual rights and protecting our communities.