Pennsylvania gun violence activists set sights on new bill
HARRISBURG — Fresh from a victory in Pennsylvania last fall, anti-gun violence advocates are turning their attention to legislation to empower family members or police to seek the immediate, if temporary, seizure of someone’s firearms.
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America went to the state Capitol on Monday to press the case for the bill, sometimes called a “red flag” bill in other states.
Under it, someone who is deemed to represent a danger of suicide or a serious threat to another person could be the subject of an “extreme risk protection order.”
Judges who are petitioned by police or a family member could consider a person’s threats or attempts at suicide or violence; domestic abuse; excessive use of drugs or alcohol; the recent acquisition of a firearm; or a couple other factors.
Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, supports the legislation, and backers of the bills — primarily Democratic lawmakers and Republicans from suburban Philadelphia — say such a rule could help prevent suicides, school shootings and other instances of gun violence.
A rally Monday drew Robert Schentrup, whose sister was a victim of last year’s mass school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and Julia Spoor, a 17-year-old Jenkintown resident who helped launch Students Demand Action after her father committed suicide.
Speaking at the rally, Spoor warned lawmakers aligned with the National Rifle Association that she will turn 18 — voting age — soon, and so will millions of others like her.
“Us meddling kids will finally have the right to take control of our own lives, and if lawmakers are scared by that, they should be,” she said.
Fourteen other states have similar laws, said an affiliate group, Everytown for Gun Safety.
The bill’s future is uncertain in a Republican-controlled Legislature historically protective of gun rights. The NRA did not immediately offer its assessment of the legislation Monday, although it had opposed an earlier version last year, saying “it would allow the seizure of firearms with little or no access to due process.”
Another gun-rights organization, Firearms Owners Against Crime, said in a flyer that extreme risk protection orders “are probably the single biggest legislative and constitutional threat” to gun ownership rights. It also warned that it will not stop someone from committing violence and would force people to sue to get their guns back.
Bills in the House and Senate remain in committee, but backers are hopeful of hearings and the potential for votes in the summer or fall.
The coming debate over extreme risk protection orders follows last fall’s passage of the first anti-violence legislation in more than a decade that deals directly with firearms, after years of lobbying by violence-prevention groups.
That law forces people in Pennsylvania with a domestic violence ruling against them to more quickly surrender their guns. Advocates said the Parkland shooting, which killed 17 people, and the pervasiveness of the #MeToo movement helped propel its passage.
“We’re going to approach this in the same way,” Sen. Tom Killion, R-Delaware, said Monday. “It’s not an anti-gun owner bill.”
Aside from a domestic violence-related order, backers of extreme risk protection orders say Pennsylvania law provides only one other avenue to take firearms away from someone deemed to be a danger.
That avenue, an involuntary commitment, is unusually extreme because it often means a 30-day inpatient stay and the permanent loss of the right to own a firearm, they say.