Bipartisan support for red flag laws wanes as GOP blocks bills

Lee Wagner, a Marine Corps veteran and suicide intervention specialist, has spent the past six years helping fellow veterans process the trauma of their combat experiences, with an eye toward preventing them from taking their own lives. Like many of his peers, Wagner is a gun owner.

In recent months, Wagner has pushed Pennsylvania state lawmakers to pass a bipartisan-backed extreme risk protection order bill. So-called red flag laws temporarily remove firearms from those who may be a harm to themselves or others, and they are lauded by public health experts, law enforcement officials and gun safety advocates. At least eight other states also are considering red flag bills.

“When someone is having a really bad day,” Wagner said, “we need to remove that tool of harm and keep them alive.”…

Under most of the laws, relatives, household members or law enforcement officers must petition a civil court to temporarily confiscate somebody’s firearms. A judge weighs the evidence, including testimony from witnesses, before issuing the noncriminal order. Usually, the order expires within a year.

But gun rights advocates argue that red flag laws violate due process and infringe on gun owners’ Second Amendment rights. And angry ex-partners and family members can easily abuse them to exact retribution, said Val Finnell, Pennsylvania director for Gun Owners of America.

“It turns due process on its head,” he said. “Petitioners don’t have to demonstrate that you committed a crime. They don’t even have to demonstrate that there’s any chance you’ll commit a crime. They just have to demonstrate that you’re subjectively a danger to someone. That’s all it takes to be stripped of your constitutional rights.”

The Pennsylvania bill does not have a chance of passing this session, Finnell said, especially since Republican state Rep. Rob Kauffman, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, refuses to give the bill a hearing. Kauffman declined to speak to Stateline.B

Republican state Rep. Todd Stephens, one of the measure’s co-sponsors, said both parties should embrace red flag laws to protect families and prevent suicides. This should appeal to his Republican colleagues, he said, since rural communities in the commonwealth have a higher rate of suicide than in urban areas. Studies show suicide rates have dropped in states with red flag laws.