ST. GEORGE — While sitting down with St. George News last week to discuss the new U.S. interior secretary’s visit to Utah, Congressman Chris Stewart also shared his thoughts on recent actions taken by President Joe Biden’s administration on gun control.
Last week, the administration announced measures to tighten national background checks for firearms purchases, as well as initiate a new study on gun trafficking.
These actions are also meant to close regulatory loopholes on “ghost guns,” as well as strictly enforce laws related to stabilizing braces that, according to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, effectively turn high-powered pistols into short-barreled rifles, which are already heavily regulated.
The administration is also looking for a potential ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.
“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic,” Biden said in a press conference held Thursday at the White House. “And it’s an international embarrassment.”
The press conference came in the wake of two highly-reported shooting incidents in Georgia and Colorado that left nearly 20 people dead.
Stewart told St. George News the president has no power to eliminate any class of weapons, such as AR-15s.
“It’s a legislative effort,” he said.
However, expanding background checks is among the areas where the president’s executive orders are enforceable, Stewart said.
Any business that sells a firearms has to be federally licensed and run a background check. This is true for brick-and-motor stores, gun show vendors and internet-based stores that ship the ordered gun to a physical store that can run the background check, the congressman said.
“There is no gun show loophole,” Stewart said, adding that he believes Biden is after background check requirements for private sales. He used the example of one friend deciding to sell a shotgun to another friend to illustrate the issue.
“They’re trying to to make it so you’d have to have a background check to do that,” he said.
Backdoor to a national firearms registry?
Stewart said his concern is that the only way background checks on private sales would be enforceable is by having a registry of every weapon and who own them.
“That’s where this gets offensive to Second Amendment advocates,” he said. “The last thing in the world I would support is to say, ‘You have to bring all of your weapons in, and we’re going to register them.’”
Stewart said he believes the move on privates sales may be a backdoor effort by the Biden administration to create a national firearms registry. He said his position is that the Second Amendment is a “fundamental right.”
“It’s not a slippery slope,” he said. “It’s a cliff. You walk off that cliff, and if we allow anyone to begin to infringe on those Second Amendment rights, we will lose them quickly. My position in Congress is to try and defend those rights.”
Red flag laws
Biden has also instructed the Justice Department to craft an example of “red flag” gun legislation that can be used and adopted by states that do not currently employ such laws.
A red flag gun law allows someone’s family member or a law enforcement officer to apply for a court order that would allow police to temporarily confiscate an individual’s firearms if they believe that individual is a threat to themselves and others. The person would have to be determined not to be a threat to anyone before being able to get their guns back.
Opponents of the proposed law argued the state had preexisting laws negating the need for the red flag legislation or that it denied an individual their right to due process. Claims that the potentially unconstitutional red flag law could be abused were also made.
During Biden’s press conference, he said he would like to see Congress pass a national red flag law and also provide incentives for the states to adopt their own version of the same.
While at a town hall meeting in Hurricane in August 2019, Stewart said he was in favor of the idea of red flag legislation.
If the judge rules there’s enough evidence to keep the firearms away from a potentially dangerous or unstable gunowner, it allows time for mental health evaluations and other concerns to be addressed.
“That would give us some time to evaluate someone,” Stewart said at the 2019 town hall meeting.
Regarding his current stance, Stewart said that if it follows due process and is left in the hands of the state, red flag gun legislation “can be a good means of addressing important mental health issues.”
“I am a proud gun owner and defender of the Second Amendment,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t also work to make our communities safer in ways that don’t impede on Americans’ fundamental right to keep and bear arms.”
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