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H.R. 838: Threat Assessment, Prevention, and Safety Act of 2019


Could legislation modeled after a successful Secret Service program to protect the president against threats also work to stop mass shootings?

Context

After President Ronald Reagan was shot and almost killed in 1981, the Secret Service developed a process called Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management to better identify and nullify threats before they could act. A _USA Today _op-ed noted, “After the threat assessment methodology was created and put into use, no one has come close to killing a president.”

Many in both parties are now asking: if it’s proven so effective, why can’t the same system be implemented nationwide to help combat the epidemic of mass shootings?

What the legislation does

The Threat Assessment, Prevention, and Safety (TAPS) Act would implement Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management across the federal government, and provide grants to states that voluntarily implement it on a state level.

The legislation’s final page clarifies that it is not one of the “red flag” laws, which permit the government to confiscate a weapon lawfully owned by a person considered dangerous. 17 states have implemented such laws, though none exist on a federal level.

The House version was introduced on January 29 as bill number H.R. 838, by Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX36). The Senate version was introduced the same day as bill number S. 265, by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the legislation could prevent tragedies such as mass shootings, by potentially identifying and targeting risks before they manifest themselves.

“This bipartisan bill will save lives by focusing efforts on prevention rather than simply reaction, because once the first shot is fired, it is too late,” Rep. Babin said in a press release. “The TAPS Act will provide our states and local communities with the resources, training, and support needed to stand up community-driven, multidisciplinary behavioral threat assessment units — allowing us to connect the dots and manage threats before an attack can occur.”

“We have the expertise to implement systems to identify and stop dangerous individuals before they commit an act of violence, but we have yet to fully and effectively develop and utilize it to prevent future attacks,” Sen. Rubio said in the same press release. “By bringing threat assessment experts together and utilizing evidence-based behavioral threat assessment and management processes, this bill will help equip our communities with the tools they need to prevent future tragedies.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the bill is a Minority Report style Orwellian bill to punish behavior before a crime has even been committed, which goes against the American ideal of people being innocent until proven guilty.

“If enacted, this bill and the national strategy it is designed to produce would likely criminalize children, further harm marginalized communities, and interfere with proven and evidence-based efforts to build positive relationships in schools and climates conducive to learning and child wellbeing,” the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote. “Our children deserve positive solutions to keep them safe in schools, but the TAPS Act takes a misguided approach that would move us further from real safety.”

“All children deserve to feel safe and supported in schools. Building positive school climates is essential to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of everyone in the school building and there is considerable evidence about how to create these learning environments,” the open letter continued. “However, the TAPS Act rests on flawed assumptions about preventing violence and as a result, would create new opportunities to marginalize children without ensuring their safety.”

Odds of passage

The House version has attracted 150 bipartisan cosponsors: an exactly equal 75 Republicans and 75 Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

That’s far smaller than the previous version in August 2018, which attracted 20 cosponsors: 15 Republicans and five Democrats. That version never received a vote, although it was also introduced far later in the congressional session.

The Senate version has attracted four bipartisan cosponsors: three Republicans and one Democrat. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Last updated Oct 2, 2019. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jan 29, 2019.


Threat Assessment, Prevention, and Safety Act of 2019

This bill directs the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish a Joint Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management Task Force, which shall provide recommendations to Congress and DHS on the development and implementation of a national strategy for preventing targeted violence through behavioral threat assessment and management.

The bill defines behavioral threat assessment and management as the systematic and evidence-based process of (1) identifying individuals whose behavior indicates a capacity for committing acts of violence, (2) investigating and gathering information from multiple sources to assess whether such individuals pose a threat, and (3) the subsequent management of such a threat.

DHS shall (1) develop and implement the national strategy and provide information and training services related to it, and (2) award grants to establish community based units for implementing the national strategy.