As discussions about “red flag” laws are renewed in light of two recent mass shootings, local state lawmakers say they aren’t sure they would support the measure in Pennsylvania.
Reps. Matthew Dowling, Ryan Warner, Justin Walsh and Bud Cook, all area Republicans, voiced concerns that allowing authorities to seize firearms of those who are deemed a danger to themselves or others under an Extreme-Risk Protection Order (EPO) raises constitutional concerns. The men said they believe that lawmakers need to focus more on mental health.
“While I share the desire to help stop these horrific incidents—and support additional funding for and focus upon mental health services to identify and help those individuals who would even think of perpetrating such acts—EPOs can be the first step on a slippery slope whereby government begins to intrude on the constitutional rights of our citizens and that is something we must always guard against,” said Dowling, of Uniontown.
“Red flag” laws are supposed to work with courts issuing temporary orders barring someone from possessing guns based on some showing of imminent danger or a risk of misuse.
Most of the laws in already in effect in other states stipulate that only specific people—usually family or household members—may petition a court for an EPO. In some cases, a preliminary order may be granted without prior notice to the person who is the subject of the order.
A typical order can range from a few days to a few weeks with an opportunity for the subject of the EPO to respond; sometimes a more permanent order may be granted for up to a year.
A bipartisan proposal by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has gained momentum following weekend mass shootings in Texas and Ohio that left 31 people dead. The emerging plan would create a federal grant program to encourage states to adopt the “red flag” laws.
“We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms and that if they do those firearms can be taken through rapid due process,” President Donald Trump said in a White House speech on Monday.
Warner, of Perryopolis, said more work needs to be done to ensure that unstable people don’t have access to firearms, but questioned whether an EPO was the right way to do it.
“(T)he challenge becomes how to do it without infringing upon the rights of law-abiding citizens,” Warner said.
In the cases of some mass shootings, he said, there are laws that should’ve prevented the shooters from having a firearm.
“So we must also look at why those laws are failing or not being properly enforced,” he said.
Like his counterparts, Walsh said he recognizes the need to do something to stop gun violence.
“With that being said, any proposal needs to be fully vetted because once the government starts eroding away at the rights of its people, it will be difficult to stop,” he said.
Cook, meanwhile, said it’s important to look for a long-term solution – and for all lawmakers to act logically, not emotionally.
“We’re a politically polarized society right now,” Cook said. “You can’t have an emotional discussion when people are pointing fingers at each other.”
With the stabbings in California this week that claimed the life of four people, Cook said the mental-health side of the issue must be addressed as one of many contributing factors.
“You have to take all factors into account,” Cook said, adding constitutional concerns exist. “It’s not just the guns.”