At state level, protective orders to confiscate guns have gained little traction,
HARRISBURG — Pittsburgh City Council members probably won’t be the only lawmakers considering whether to approve the creation of “extreme risk protection orders,” which would allow the courts to confiscate someone’s guns temporarily if they present a risk to themselves or others.
Rep. Todd Stephens, RMontgomery County, announced plans last week to introduce such a measure. Its fate remains uncertain.
While Republicans who control the House chamber acknowledge that there is “some support” for such a bill, “it’s hard to say if there’s going to be enough support for it to definitely move or not,” said Mike Straub, a spokesman for House Republicans, who control the legislative calendar.
Gun bills typically have been a heavy lift for state lawmakers, whose stances on the issue don’t fall neatly along partisan lines.
Mr. Stephens introduced a similar bill last year, after the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting. While the measure made it further than most gun bills — advancing out of the House Judiciary Committee — it languished on the floor. Had it passed both chambers, Pennsylvania would have joined around 14 other states in creating a process by which a judge could order the removal of guns from a person deemed to be at risk of hurting someone, including themselves.
Mr. Stephens did not respond to a message left in his Capitol office last week.
When his bill went through the Judiciary Committee last year, he pitched it to his colleagues as a way to save lives and intervene in situations that might be difficult to address under current state law.
“The only way to disarm a loved one in crisis is to involuntarily commit them in a mental institution for up to five days,” Mr. Stephens said. “That’s five days taken against your will, away from your home, your family, your friends, your job. But that’s only if you meet the criteria of having a mental illness.”
He went on to cite a newspaper article that said less than half of all people who commit suicide have a diagnosed mental health condition. The state Department of Health counted 1,547 gun deaths — 972 of them suicides — in 2016, the latest year for which data was immediately available.
Mr. Stephens’ bill would have allowed law enforcement officers, relatives or household members to petition a court to prohibit someone temporarily from possessing or purchasing a gun if the person presents a risk of suicide or a risk of seriously injuring others.
Some of the committees’ more prominent gun rights supporters questioned whether the bill overreached. Rep. Paul Schemel, R-Franklin, said at the time that he believed the bill placed “too great a demand on our constitutional rights” to bear a firearm, but believed that changes could be made to satisfy his concerns.
Others, such as then-Rep. Dom Costa, D-Stanton Heights, and former Pittsburgh police chief, applauded the bill. He recounted a time when he negotiated over the phone with a man who had killed his girlfriend — a man who said “someone should have taken the guns from him.”
“He killed himself as I spoke with him on the phone,” Mr. Costa said during the meeting. “This is something that doesn’t need to happen.”
He added later: “This bill will save lives. When it comes to weighing a life over a Second Amendment right, I’m going to go with saving that life every time.”
The bill passed out of committee, 18-9. It stalled before it got enough votes for final passage on the floor.
“I think it’s safe to say there was trouble finding consensus on that bill among some of our members who just took some issue with the questions of due process,” Mr. Straub said. “There was certainly a contingency of our members who had issue with the language in that bill and how guns were taken away and when.”
Former state Rep. Dom Costa supported legislation that would have allowed the removal of a person's guns upon a judge's approval of an extreme risk protection order.