Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina is one of four senators leading the charge to examine the country’s gun laws in the aftermath of two high-profile mass shootings last month that killed 31 people.
On Tuesday afternoon, Tillis told McClatchy that key areas of focus have included red flag laws, mental health, preventing juvenile offenders from purchasing guns, and stricter licensing for gun dealers.
Since a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, which killed 19 students and two teachers, gun reform has become a major point of contention in the United States. Only ten days earlier, a mass shooter opened fire in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, killing ten people.
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, where a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 killed 26 people, took to the Senate floor and questioned his colleagues about why they worked so hard to become senators if they weren’t willing to do something as simple as protect students from being shot.
Senators have been on recess for the past week, with no action on the country’s gun laws.
But Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, emerged from the recess as one of four senators working together to make changes.
Conversations on Capitol Hill this week centered on gun laws, and celebrities like actor Matthew McConaughey, a Uvalde native, came to DC to urge lawmakers to pass gun reform.
Tillis told McClatchy at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday that he is working with Murphy, Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, and Texas Republican John Cornyn to find changes on which lawmakers can agree. Tillis stated that he hopes to have “the contours of an agreement” by the end of the week.
Tillis stated that one of the changes they are considering is red flag laws. Red flag laws allow citizens to petition a court to temporarily remove a person’s firearms if they pose a risk to themselves or others.
Senator Tillis stated that the senators are not considering enacting a federal red flag law, but rather one that states can implement and then be eligible for federal funds as a result.
Tillis stated that the state-based red flag laws would be modeled after the one Florida enacted in the aftermath of the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. The law allows police to petition the courts to temporarily prohibit certain individuals from purchasing or possessing a firearm.
According to CNN, Republicans have praised it as a best practice, and Tillis stated that it prevents weapons from being “arbitrarily confiscated.”
Senators, according to Tillis, are also looking into ensuring that juveniles convicted of an offense that, if committed as an adult, would have disqualified them from purchasing or possessing a gun face the same consequences.
Another area Tillis said lawmakers are looking into is improving mental health access, which is based on a pilot program put together by Sens. Roy Blunt and Debbie Stabenow that allowed the creation of Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics funded through the health care system rather than grants.
Tillis stated that lawmakers are looking to expand this across the country. Last summer, Stabenow and Blunt introduced legislation to accomplish this.
Finally, Tillis stated that they are considering stricter licensing requirements for gun dealers.
“Right now, we have people who are practically dealers, but they’re viewed as hobbyists or various other categories,” Tillis explained, referring to a shooting spree in Odessa, Texas, which spread to multiple cities.
“The person who purchased the gun was unable to pass a background check,” Tillis explained. “He went to a hobbyist who had a side business buying parts and making knockoff assault weapons, and they’re doing it at a level that it’s clearly not a hobby, it’s sort of a business.”
Tillis believes that anyone who sells guns for a living should be considered a federal firearm licensee and subject to background checks on potential buyers.