The Democratic Party’s appetite for gun-control legislation is constant, especially in the wake of a mass shooting. Occasionally, they are able to enlist sufficient Republican support in the Congress to actually pass legislation limiting the Second Amendment rights of citizens. This was the case last month when the requisite number of Republicans crossed over and gave Democrats a victory in sending the “Bipartisan Safer Communities Act” to President Biden for his eager signature.
Not content with their success in passing that expansive legislation, Democrats in the House last week passed another bill to prove they are “doing something” to prevent criminals from shooting innocent victims. At least that’s the theory behind the “Active Shooter Alert Act of 2022” (H.R. 6538) that now awaits Senate action.
H.R. 6538 has a price tag of “only” $2 million (at least to start) and does not itself restrict exercise of citizens’ Second Amendment rights. It is, however, pointless and unnecessary.
Obviously the bill’s primary sponsors, Democratic Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline and Republican Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, concluded that existing “alert” communications between law enforcement agencies are inadequate. Thus, we need an office at the U.S. Department of Justice dedicated to monitoring such events and alerting everyone else — another bureaucracy to “coordinate” something, along with a “study” to be conducted by the Government Accountability Office to let us know how they are doing.
Don’t get me wrong, the disgracefully inadequate, bordering on criminally negligent behavior by the school police agency during the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, illustrates that there are shortcomings in how some police departments and individual officers respond to an “active shooter.” (Strangely, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act signed with much fanfare by Biden, contained no funds specifically earmarked for improved police training, but that’s another story.) However, setting up another office in Washington to serve as nothing but a clearing house for “active shooter” information is not going to touch, much less solve such serious problems.
Still, 43 House GOP members joined all but a single Democrat in voting to create another “Amber Alert,” this one for active shooter situations.
While such an action may sound benign, the actual language in the bill, had Members actually read it before voting “aye,” should have alerted them that this “alert” bill is far too broad to be of serious benefit. For example, the term “active shooter” includes any person “engaged in killing or attempting to kill” (my emphasis) persons in a “populated area.” Additionally, the active shooter must be “determined to pose an active, imminent threat to people in the populated area.” It is apparent right there that there will be problems figuring out what may be in the mind of a “determined” person “attempting to kill” people.
The tendency, of course, will be to include more not fewer potential shooting scenarios in the alert system.
The more problematic provision in the legislation is its definition of “Populated Area” as would trigger a nationwide alert — “a location where one or more persons other than the active shooter are present.” In other words, if there is an armed individual “determined” to pose a danger to at least one other person in an area where there are at least two people present, the alert goes into effect. Broad enough?
Then there is the “coordination” responsibility. The Justice Department must coordinate its work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Transportation Department, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
H.R. 6538 is the epitome of a pointless response to a problem needing hard work and commitment, but which receives only a glossy, bureaucratic veneer from the Congress. In a word, as noted by Republican Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan who voted against the bill — it is a “gimmick.”
Moreover, this legislation duplicates other communications systems already in place, such as the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS), which itself is in addition to “fusion centers” active in every state and which employ some 3,000 individuals and have cost taxpayers billions of dollars “with little to show for it,” even though supposed to alert communities to criminal or terrorist activities.
As illustrated by passage of H.R. 6538, however, duplication of effort is hardly a reason for the House of Representatives not to enact more legislation.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the U.S. Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta and serves as head of Liberty Guard.