After a spate of mass shootings, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was one of 15 Republicans who voted in June for a gun bill that provides money for states that have or want to enact red-flag laws to temporarily remove firearms from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. States that do not have red-flag laws can use their funding for other programs, such as mental health and drug courts.
An ad from one of Murkowski’s challengers, Republican Kelly Tshibaka, cites that vote to misleadingly claim that Murkowski “voted for red-flag laws to restrict your Second Amendment rights and subject you to federal criminal investigation.” But the ad is running in Alaska, which does not have a red-flag law and is not required to adopt one.
Protecting the Second Amendment is a priority political issue in Alaska, which ranks third in average household firearm ownership rate, behind only Montana and Wyoming, according to the Rand Corporation, using data from 1980 to 2016. Nearly 2 out of 3 adults in Alaska live in households with guns.
Until her vote for the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, Murkowski had enjoyed an A rating from the National Rifle Association. But as the ad from Tshibaka notes, after that vote, the NRA dropped Murkowski to a B rating.
Also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders, or ERPO, red-flag laws allow certain people — usually just law enforcement officers, family or household members — “to petition a court to order that firearms be temporarily taken or kept away from someone who poses a risk of committing gun violence,” the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said in a 2019 report.
“ERPO laws are designed to respond to acute periods of elevated risk of violence by authorizing a temporary ban on new firearm purchases and the temporary removal of firearms currently in an individual’s possession,” the Rand Corporation explains in a 2020 report as part of its Gun Policy in America initiative.
Although the ad claims Murkowski is “helping” President Joe Biden’s efforts to “take our guns,” Biden has called for a national red-flag law, while the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that Murkowski voted for doesn’t do that. The law, signed by Biden, provides $750 million for states to implement “crisis intervention court proceedings and related programs or initiatives, including but not limited to mental health courts; drug courts; veterans courts; and extreme risk protection order programs.”
According to a press release from Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who put his A+ rating from the NRA on the line when he voted for the bill, “Every state would receive funding based on an existing formula and have the flexibility to choose whichever crisis intervention programs would work best for them. There are no mandates, incentives, penalties, or set-asides.”
“If a state chooses to use any of this funding to implement an extreme risk protection order program, it would be required to meet strict and expansive due process, evidentiary, and standard of proof requirements,” Cornyn’s release stated.
“If what we’re doing is making things safer, without taking away people’s Second Amendment rights, I think maybe we’ve knit this just the way it needed to be,” Murkowski said in June. On the day of the vote, Murkowski put out a press release, “Myth vs Fact: Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.” Misconceptions about red-flag law provisions in the bill are at the top of the list.
Murkowski press release, June 23: MYTH: This measure creates a national, federal red flag law, and forces states who don’t have red or yellow flag laws to adopt them.
* This does not create a national, federal red flag law.
* This legislation does not require or incentivize states to adopt red or yellow flag laws.
* States without red flag laws, such as Alaska, will receive funding and can use it to implement other programs like Veterans’ Courts, Drug and DUI Courts, and Mental Health Courts.
* This measure forces states who choose to use grant funding for red flag laws to comply with strict and comprehensive due process requirements.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already have red-flag laws in place, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which advocates gun control laws. The states are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
Alaska does not have a red-flag law. In 2019, Alaska state Rep. Geran Tarr and three other Democrats proposed a red-flag bill, but the bill never made it out of committee. Democrats have not controlled Alaska’s Legislature for decades.
As Mother Jones put it on the eve of the vote for the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, “But even if it passes, federal funding for the bill’s most-discussed provision is unlikely to persuade many of the 30 states that don’t have red flag laws—most of them Republican-led—to adopt them. Some of these states have repeatedly voted down red flag legislation; at least one has formally outlawed their implementation. This means the federal gun control bill, aimed at reining in the epidemic of mass shootings, could have limited impact in a large swath of the country.”
Again, Tshibaka’s ad is running in Alaska, for Alaska voters, and the state doesn’t have a red-flag law — nor has the state Legislature shown an inclination to enact one. So regardless of whether one considers red-flag laws an infringement on Second Amendment rights, the point is moot for Alaskans.
In addition to Murkowski and Tshibaka, Democrat Pat Chesbro is on the general election ballot. Under Alaska’s new voting system, the top four candidates in the primary, regardless of party affiliation, square off in the general election via ranked-choice voting. In ranked-choice voting, voters rank the candidates. If no candidate is ranked first by a majority of voters, the last-place candidate is eliminated, and the second-choice candidates on those ballots are awarded those votes. The process continues until one candidate has a majority.
The fourth-place finisher in the primary, Republican Buzz Kelley, dropped out of the race on Sept. 13 and threw his support behind Tshibaka.
More importantly, Tshibaka has the support of former President Donald Trump — who was angered by Murkowski’s vote to convict him for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
“If months of lies, organizing a rally of supporters in an effort to thwart the work of Congress, encouraging a crowd to march on the Capitol, and then taking no meaningful action to stop the violence once it began is not worthy of impeachment, conviction, and disqualification from holding office in the United States, I cannot imagine what is,” Murkowski said in a Feb. 14, 2021, statement on her vote to convict Trump.
Four months later, Trump endorsed Tshibaka. “Lisa Murkowski is bad for Alaska,” Trump said in his endorsement statement. “Murkowski has got to go! Kelly Tshibaka is the candidate who can beat Murkowski—and she will.”
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