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Pennsylvania Lawmakers Want To Pass Red Flag Gun Law To Help Battle Mental Health Crisis

NARBERTH, Pa. (CBS) -- It's a sobering statistic. Suicides accounted for more than half of U.S. gun deaths in 2020, according to recently published data by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now, elected officials in Pennsylvania are working to pass a red flag gun law in the commonwealth.

First responders from Narberth Ambulance say they deal with more mental health calls than anything else, an issue officials say has spiked since COVID-19.

"It just keeps continuing," Narberth Ambulance Deputy Chief of Operations Patrick Glynn said. "I looked year to date and we're already above where we were last year."

"The idea is anything that gives somebody pause is a benefit," Glynn added of a red flag law. "Because we find that when people take a pause, get the help that they need, they're less likely to actually follow through."

That's in part why some state lawmakers say a red flag gun law in Pennsylvania is needed now more than ever.

"This is a significant step forward," state Sen. Art Haywood said during a virtual news conference Monday.

Haywood has been pushing for a red flag law, where if someone is believed to be in a mental health crisis, the bill would allow a family member or law enforcement officer to petition the courts to temporarily remove firearms from that person.

"We know in states where they have had red flag laws to take guns away from individuals who are at extreme risks to themselves can save lives," Haywood said.

A Republican lawmaker from Montgomery County points out that most gun deaths are suicides, but he says a red flag law could curb that.

"The data shows us that if we can give folks in crisis some time and space between them and their firearms, that crisis will abate," Rep. Todd Stephens said.

Stephens introduced a red flag bill in 2018, reintroduced it in 2020 and again this year, but it's been an uphill battle to get it through Harrisburg.

In large part, some people worry a red flag law could mistakenly take away firearms from a responsible gun owner.

Anthony Filippello owns a gun shop and shooting range in Northeast Philly called Delaware Valley Sports Center.

"If I'm going to have red flag laws, I think it has to be thought out as to how exactly it's going to be executed," Filippello said.

But Stephens says his red flag bill isn't meant to be a red or blue issue, but one that would help those struggling with thoughts of suicide.

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