‘Red flag’ proposal popular among Pennsylvania voters, poll finds

By: - October 31, 2019 5:30 am

A woman holds a sign in favor of extreme risk protection orders at a gun control rally in the Capitol rotunda (Capital-Star photo).

A type of gun control that has been shown to reduce suicides is popular among Pennsylvania voters, a new poll shows.

Eighty percent of respondents to a Franklin & Marshall College poll released Thursday said they strongly or somewhat favor “giving courts the ability to seize a person’s firearms if they are judged to be a threat to themselves or others.”

That number dropped to 66 percent when respondents were informed that these laws “could mean some gun owners temporarily lose their firearms before they can represent themselves in court.”

What these questions were describing is called a “red flag” law, which 17 states and the District of Columbia have adopted. A push to pass a similar bill in Pennsylvania is supported by Gov. Tom Wolf, many Democrats, and some Republicans.

Under a proposal introduced by Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, family or law enforcement would be able to petition a court to temporarily confiscate firearms from a person deemed at risk of harming himself or others.

If the judge agrees with the petition, she can then do one of two things: schedule a hearing to take place within 10 days, or issue an interim order that can last for up to five days.

The latter situation, reserved for high-risk cases, is a point a contention for pro-gun attorneys and some civil rights groups.

Stephens has argued that extreme risk protection orders provide more due process rights than the current involuntary commitment process, which makes a person ineligible to own firearms for life.

“In some ways, people want it both ways. They say they want due process. Well, due process in America is judicial review in many instances,” Stephens told the Capital-Star in May. “Well then when we give them judicial review, they say, ‘Well, what if it’s a bad judge?’

“OK, what do you want? Do you want due process or not, because that’s what due process is in America.”

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is neutral on Stephens’ proposal, after opposing it last session.

While support for a red flag law may be broad in Pennsylvania, a key Republican lawmaker is vehemently opposed.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin, declared in September that his committee would not consider a red flag proposal “so long as Chairman Kauffman is chairman.”

The Franklin & Marshall poll also found that 60 percent of voters strongly or somewhat favor “creating more laws that regulate gun ownership,” while 36 percent of respondents somewhat or strongly oppose that action.

The survey was conducted between Oct. 21 and 27. It reached 482 registered voters — 226 Democrats, 188 Republicans, and 68 independents — and has a margin of error of plus or minus 6.1 percentage points.

Thirty-six percent of people who responded to the poll self-identified as a gun owner.

How one Republican lawmaker is trying to balance gun rights and due process in Pennsylvania

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Sarah Anne Hughes
Sarah Anne Hughes

Associate Editor Sarah Anne Hughes covers the governor and Pennsylvania's agencies. Before joining the Capital-Star, she was the state capitol reporter for Billy Penn and The Incline, and a 2018 corps member for Report for America. She was previously managing editor of Washington City Paper, editor-in-chief of DCist, and a national blogger for The Washington Post.