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South Dakota legislators to Washington: Don't pass red flag laws, gun-free zones are the problem

A sign expresses an anti-gun message at a gathering outside Duluth City Hall on Wednesday, Aug. 7. The event brought public officials and community members together to honor those affected by the mass shootings recently in Gilroy, Calif.; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio. Ellen Schmidt/

PIERRE, S.D. — Less than two weeks after the country was rocked by two back-to-back mass shootings — first in El Paso, Texas, then Dayton, Ohio, leaving 31 people dead within one weekend — South Dakota state legislators are asking the White House and Congress to back off rumored "red flag" legislation.

In a Monday, Aug. 12 letter to President Donald Trump and South Dakota's U.S. Sen. John Thune, U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds and U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, 26 former and current state legislators denounced recent talk to pass a nationwide red flag law, which would allow judges to grant orders of protection against people found to be a danger to themselves or others, preventing them from possessing firearms for up to one year at a time.

The legislators called such laws, which are already in place in 17 states, "counterproductive measures that grossly violate the 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th Amendment rights of American citizens."

Instead of enacting red flag laws — which have received public support from Trump and a few high-profile Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — the South Dakota legislators said Congress should be "concentrating on the confirmed problem of unsafe 'gun-free zones.'"

"(B)ut (Congress is) instead once again following the lead of liberal gun control activists and proposing more ineffective laws that subvert the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans," the letter read.

Johnson seemed hesitant of the red flag proposals in a Tuesday written statement, saying that he is "concerned that some proposals to remove firearms from lawful gun owners don't have sufficient due process protections."

"As we struggle with how best to keep our communities safe, we must take care not to unreasonably infringe on the constitutional rights of lawful citizens," Johnson said.

Thirteen current state representatives signed the letter, and six current state senators, out of 70 and 35 total members in each chamber, respectively. The North Dakota House defeated a state-level red flag bill during their 2019 session earlier this year by a 76-17 vote. No such bill was considered in South Dakota.