TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – As President Joe Biden applauded the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act Monday in Washington, the law has mixed feelings in Northeast Tennessee.
Biden signed the bill into law almost three weeks ago but held a ceremony at the White House to mark its passage.
“The provision of this new legislation is going to save lives, and is proof that today’s politics, we can come together on a bipartisan basis to get important things done, even on an issue as tough as guns,” Biden said.
The law includes enhanced background checks for young gun buyers, banning a loophole for some domestic abusers to purchase bans, and providing grant money for states pursuing red flag laws and mental health programs.
The enhanced background checks include individuals aged 18-20 looking to purchase guns. The National Instant Criminal Background System now includes juvenile records and extends the minimum amount of time to examine a record to three days.
If a concerning element comes up in the background check, agencies have an additional seven days to examine the 18-20 year old’s background.
Jessi Fuchs, leader of Tri-Cities Moms Demand Action, says that additional time is crucial.
“Let’s say someone is in crisis and threatening to go do a mass shooting. They go and buy a gun that day, but they’re 20 years old,” Fuchs said. “That person is not going to be leaving the store with a gun that day.”
Tim Reynolds, owner of Reynolds Grocery & Sporting Goods in Carter County, said as a federally licensed firearm dealer, people in that age range must already go through background checks from multiple agencies.
“As Tennessee dealers, we go through the TBI, which it also goes through a national database through the FBI,” Reynolds said.
Tom Parham, a lifelong gun owner, said at a Sullivan County Republican fundraiser that the government should be concerned with people committing crimes with guns, rather than the guns themselves.
“There’s probably a good case for doing a better job enforcing the laws we have, but I personally would rather see us focus on the shooters are the problem instead of the instrument,” Parham said.
The law includes billions of dollars in grants for states to pursue new mental health and security programs.
Tennessee Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) said the state is already investing in mental health, but he would like to see the state get some of that money to continue its work.
“You look at mental health and security, those are crucial issues,” Lundberg said. “We’ve put a lot of money in mental health, we’ll probably continue to do that.”
The bill also includes $750 million to incentivize states to enact or strengthen crisis intervention or “red flag” laws.
Those laws would take away guns from people at risk of hurting themselves or other people.
U.S. Rep. Diana Harshbarger said that aspect of the bill is why she voted no in the House.
“It’s all about red flag laws and due process. You won’t get due process with this. Anybody can come in and say a whole lot of things about you and they have the right to confiscate your weapons,” Harshbarger said.
Fuchs said Moms Demand Action is pushing Tennessee state lawmakers to pass red flag laws.
She said those bills would include a formal hearing with a judge before any guns would be taken away.
“It goes in front of a judge, and a judge would decide whether or not those guns need to be temporarily removed,” Fuchs said.
Fuchs said red flag laws prevent deaths from gun violence.
“If someone expresses that they want to harm themselves or someone else, they are in a crisis in that moment,” Fuchs said. “Having a gun, access to a gun in that moment makes the situation much more likely to be deadly.”
The law also tightens restrictions for convicted domestic abusers to own guns.
It closes the “boyfriend loophole” which allowed domestic abusers in relationships with a victim from purchasing guns.
Previously, the law only banned purchases for individuals married to, living with or had a child with a victim.