BOISE (Idaho Statesman) – With uncommon bipartisan support, Congress approved the nation’s first major gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years at the end of this week, even as each of Idaho’s four congressional lawmakers voted against the negotiated framework.
On Thursday night, Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch joined 31 Senate Republicans in casting votes against the landmark bill titled the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. The proposed law, co-sponsored by two Democrats and two Republicans in the Senate, passed the upper chamber by a 65-33 vote.
The U.S. House followed the Senate’s passage with approval by a 243-193 vote on Friday. Idaho’s Reps. Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher, both Republicans, opposed the bill.
The Senate’s 50 Democrats were joined by 15 Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, in approving the measure. In the House, 14 Republicans supported the bill to send it on a path to Democratic President Joe Biden’s desk. He signed into law Saturday morning, making it the first significant piece of gun legislation since the decadelong assault weapons ban passed in 1994 under former Democratic President Bill Clinton.
“Time is of the essence,” Biden said Saturday in remarks from the White House. “While this bill doesn’t do everything I want, it does include actions I’ve long called for that are going to save lives.”
Among several key components, the new legislation created out of compromise includes hundreds of millions of federal dollars to encourage states to enact “red flag laws.” Such restrictions allow law enforcement to seek approval from judges to temporarily remove firearms from people deemed a danger to others, or themselves. Federal funds in the bill may also be used by states toward expanding mental health resources, including crisis intervention programs, and to increase security at schools, where several high-profile acts of gun violence have occurred across the country.
Risch, 79, in office since 2009, was not available for an interview after the vote as he departed on an international flight, according to his Senate spokesperson. But in a written statement Thursday, Risch argued that legislation “infringing on Americans’ constitutional rights is not the answer to the challenges before us.”
“This bill’s weak due process protections and its provisions to funnel federal tax dollars toward facilitating state-level gun confiscation orders — so-called ‘red flag laws’ — will erode citizens’ Second Amendment rights,” Risch said. “Violent crime has no place in our communities, and we should continue to work toward solutions that keep schools and communities safe while upholding the rights of the American people.”
Crapo, 71, is currently running for a fifth term after nearly two dozen years in his seat. Over three days leading up to and after Thursday’s vote, the Idaho Statesman made repeated requests for an interview through Crapo’s press secretary, Marissa Morrison Hyer. On Friday, she said he was unavailable for an interview and directed a reporter to a written statement posted to his Senate website the same day.
In the statement, Crapo cited a need to improve deficiencies in the nation’s mental health system, which he claimed are frequently a driving factor of “heinous acts of gun violence,” but rejected what he termed “federal overreach” baked into the bill to enact red flag laws in states like Idaho, which don’t already have them on the books.
“These policies, which expand access to essential care by supporting telehealth options and creating more sites of service, are the types of bipartisan, targeted solutions that address root causes of gun violence,” Crapo said. “However, I have serious concerns with federal funds being used to help states establish ‘red flag laws.’ ”
Scott Oh Cleveland, 60, of Eagle, is running as an independent against Crapo for U.S. Senate. Like the current officeholder, Oh Cleveland told the Statesman that he also opposes the gun safety bill, largely based on what he called the “lack of due process” that could grant law enforcement the ability to take away a person’s right to gun ownership if they are deemed dangerous.
BILL CLOSES LOOPHOLES, EXPANDS CHECKS
The federal bill developed in the aftermath of a series of shocking mass shootings, including one last month at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. There, an 18-year-old gunman — who bought two high-powered rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition just days before — killed 19 students and two teachers, and wounded 17 others, before turning the gun on himself. Leading up to the tragedy — now Texas’ deadliest school shooting — the teenage gunman also critically wounded his grandmother when he shot her in the face.
David Roth, 40, an Idaho Falls Democrat, is also running against Crapo in November’s general election. He said he supports the national gun safety bill and challenged the incumbent senator to justify his opposition vote.
“There’s no excuse for voting against it,” Roth told the Statesman in a phone interview. “There’s nothing in this bill that is going to infringe on rights to the level that it would outweigh the potential good it could do. I cannot fathom why even just the basic things advocated for in this bill that Sen. Crapo would stand against them.”
In addition to emphasizing red flag laws, the legislation closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole” by further prohibiting who may own a firearm if they’ve ever been convicted of domestic violence against anyone for whom they maintain an intimate or romantic relationship. The prior iteration of the restriction did not contemplate the gun owner’s personal connections beyond the individual’s spouse or people for whom they share children or a household.
To expand on criminal background checks for individuals who are 18 to 21 years of age when they try to buy a gun, the bill also emphasizes through grant funding that states include review of juvenile records within the national database. The legislation also makes it easier to prosecute people who buy guns for those who are not allowed to own them, and requires individuals who sell guns as a primary source of income to register with the federal government as licensed dealers.
Among many other proponents, the bill received support from the Major Cities Chiefs Association, an organization made up of police executives from the largest cities in the United States and Canada. Membership requires a metropolitan area population of no fewer than 1.5 million people, and whose largest law enforcement agency includes at least 1,000 sworn officers.
“The MCCA has long been an advocate for sensible firearms policy,” said the organization’s support letter, signed by Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams, who also acts as the group’s president. “The MCCA firmly believes that the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act will help save lives.”
The association’s membership requirements prevent Boise from being part of it. The city has a population of roughly 460,000 people in its metro area, and the city’s police force counts about 300 sworn officers. The Boise Police Department declined to offer a stance on the proposed law, but an agency spokesperson told the Statesman that Boise police “do appreciate that Congress is examining the issue and its impact on public safety.”
IDAHO CONGRESSMEN VOTE NO
On Friday, Simpson, 71, running for his 13th term after taking office in 1999 to represent Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District, was tied up with budgetary meetings and unavailable for an interview, a spokesman said. In a written statement released after the House vote, Simpson said he supported the mental health components of the bill, but shared worries over the inclusion of “unacceptable language aimed at chipping away law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights.”
“I am particularly concerned with the provisions that pave the way towards universal background checks and create waiting periods for some adults to purchase firearms,” Simpson said.
Congressional staffers for Fulcher, 60, who is running for a third term to represent Idaho’s 1st Congressional District, did not respond over three days to interview requests from the Statesman. Fulcher’s campaign did not either.
Instead, Fulcher issued a brief statement via social media on Friday following the vote, labeling the bill the “Senate Gun Control Act” and asserting that it “curtails Americans’ due process rights and singles out law-abiding citizens under 21 for additional restrictions.”
Fulcher and Simpson’s respective Democratic rivals each previously called on their opponents to support gun safety legislation like the bill that cleared Congress on Friday.
Like Crapo and most Republicans, Fulcher and Simpson are endorsed in their election year races by the National Rifle Association, which publicly objected to the gun safety bill. Risch is not up for reelection until 2026 — if he decided to run again at age 83 — but was endorsed by the NRA in 2020.
Last year, Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed a bill into law that hindered enforcement statewide in response to several Biden executive actions involving firearms, their accessories and ammunition that conflict with the Idaho Constitution. In March 2021, the president issued guidance to limit the production of so-called “ghost guns,” which are firearms built at home with unregistered components, as well as create a standardized model for states to establish red flag laws.
After the gun safety bill’s passage Friday, a spokesperson for Little, 68, told the Statesman that the Republican governor is “continuing conversations with our federal delegation on the legislation and remains a strong supporter of Americans’ Second Amendment rights and safe communities.” Little is endorsed by the NRA in his bid for a second term in November.
Boise Mayor Lauren McLean, 47, a Democrat, did not offer a position on the proposed law. The Boise City Council, however, has up for consideration on its Tuesday agenda a resolution that commits the city to “commonsense gun safety efforts,” according to the City Council’s agenda.