Key state senator voices doubts about gun safety bill in Pennsylvania

The Senate Judiciary Committee finished two days of hearings about guns, mental health and the Second Amendment.

Senators listen during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on September 25, 2019, in Harrisburg, Pa. (Ed Mahon/PA Post)

Senators listen during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on September 25, 2019, in Harrisburg, Pa. (Ed Mahon/PA Post)

This article originally appeared on PA Post.

The Republican leader of a powerful committee in the Pennsylvania Senate said Wednesday she isn’t making any commitments about when the panel would vote on a widely discussed gun safety bill.

“We still have some reservations about due process,” Sen. Lisa Baker said, referring to an extreme-risk protection order bill that would allow judges to temporarily remove a person’s gun rights and any guns in that person’s possession if a judge decides the gun owner is a risk to self or others. The proposal is sometimes referred to as a red flag law.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor
State Sen. Lisa Baker, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, listens during a hearing on September 25, 2019. (Ed Mahon/PA Post)

The Republican lawmaker from Luzerne County said she doesn’t “have any intentions of running the bill” unless those concerns are addressed and there is enough support on the committee.

Baker made the comments after two days of hearings on guns, the Second Amendment and mental health. She didn’t go as far as her Republican counterpart on the House Judiciary Committee, who on Tuesday ruled out taking action on any extreme-risk protection order legislation.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Baker raised concerns about temporary orders approved through an “ex parte” proceeding — one in which a gun owner does not have a chance to rebut the surrender order. Those interim orders can either be approved by a Common Pleas judge or hearing officer, such as a court-appointed master or magisterial district judge.

Gun owners would have a chance to defend themselves before longer-lasting surrender orders — 3 months up to a year — could be approved.

“I hear from many people. There’s great, great concern about someone speaking about you, sharing information, whether it is done by an ex-wife. …There are many people who have suggested custody cases will drive that kind of push,” Baker said.

Adam Skaggs, chief counsel and policy director for the gun reform group Giffords Law Center, replied that ex parte proceeding isn’t unique to extreme risk protection orders. He said there are provisions in the proposed Pennsylvania legislation, including criminal penalties for false statements by someone who asks a court to remove someone’s gun rights, to prevent them being used vindictively.

“That … would be effective in preventing that type of an abuse,” Skaggs said. “…That’s what we’ve seen in other states.”

Gun safety advocates, including Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and some Republicans in the legislature, say extreme risk protection orders could reduce gun deaths, particularly suicides.

Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, said Wednesday that she believes there is enough support in the legislature to pass an extreme risk protection order — if the legislation can be voted on by the full state House and Senate.

Demonstrators gather outside of the state Capitol in Harrisburg on Sept. 25, 2019, ahead of a gun hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Ed Mahon/PA Post)

“The question is the gatekeepers,” Goodman said, referring to the committee chairs in both chambers. “I hope Senator Baker heard some things she wants to hear more about and debate with her colleagues …I hope they are prelude to action.”

After Wednesday’s hearing, Kim Stolfer, an opponent of new gun restrictions and  president of Firearms Owners Against Crime, said he believes the Senate Judiciary Committee ultimately won’t take action on an extreme-risk protection order bill.

“But a lot of winds can blow with the additional testimony that comes in. So we’ll see,” Stolfer said. “But I’m hoping that they don’t.”

He said the clear opposition by the House Judiciary Committee chairman increases the odds the Senate won’t act.

Police officers restrict access in a hallway ahead of a Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Sept. 25, 2019. (Ed Mahon/PA Post)

Hundreds of advocates on both sides of the gun debate showed up to Harrisburg for the hearings. Some gun rights advocates stayed outside the state Capitol Wednesday, holding flags and exercising their right to carry their firearms openly.

About an hour before Wednesday’s Senate hearing began, the Capitol Police removed gun rights advocates from news conference held by representatives of Moms Demand Action, CeaseFirePA and other supporters of increased gun restrictions.

Both sides had gathered in a crowded hallway ahead of the hearing. Troy Thompson, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of General Services, which oversees Capitol Police, said the supporters of increased gun restrictions had reserved the space for a news conference and that gun rights supporters disrupted it.

PA Post is a digital-first, citizen-focused news organization that connects Pennsylvanians with accountability and deep-dive reporting.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal