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House of Representatives
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: February 5, 2019 02:31 PM
From: Representative Todd Stephens
To: All House members
Subject: Extreme Risk Protective Orders- Providing Due Process for Gun Owners and Reducing Firearms Deaths by Temporarily Disarming People in Crisis
In 2017, 993 Pennsylvanians committed suicide with a firearm. Of the 1636 firearms deaths across the Commonwealth last year, 61% were suicides, and the data shows that those living in rural Pennsylvania are most at risk. The top twenty counties in firearms suicides per capita since 2011 are Elk, Wayne, Carbon, Clarion, Schuylkill, Clearfield, Susquehanna, Huntington, Jefferson, Wyoming, Cambria, Bedford, Somerset, Lawrence, Crawford, Perry, Armstrong, Greene, Fayette, and Bradford.

These mothers, fathers, grandparents, and siblings often exhibit signs or “red flags” that they are in crisis before taking their own lives. The only intervention available for loved ones and family members to keep them safe is a 302 involuntary commitment. While the 302 involuntary commitment process works well in some instances, it has its limitations. An involuntary commitment has a very narrow scope and many individuals in crisis are not eligible. Additionally, a 302 involuntary commitment forcibly removes someone from their home and holds them against their will away from their family, loved ones and job with no due process and, in addition to losing their liberty for up to 5 days, they lose their firearms rights for life. There is no hearing before a judge, they have no opportunity to present evidence or cross-examine witnesses, and they are not provided with an attorney. As a result, loved ones are often reluctant to seek this help given the severe ramifications on their gun rights with no due process protections.

Thirteen other states across the political spectrum have adopted Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) to help address the gaps in existing laws that can prevent getting help to those in crisis and to save lives. These states are Indiana, Florida, Oregon, California, Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts, Illinois, Rhode Island, Washington, and Vermont. A 2017 University of Indianapolis study of Indiana and Connecticut’s laws found they reduced firearms suicide by 7.5% and 13.6% respectively.

I am reintroducing my legislation from last session which creates an alternative to the 302 process, Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO). ERPOs provide a mechanism for loved ones, family members, and law enforcement to ask a Judge to hold a hearing to determine whether an individual is in crisis and should be temporarily disarmed. Here is how this legislation will reduce suicides and prevent violence while providing much more due process than the current system:

• A family member or law enforcement officer may present evidence to a judge that someone poses an immediate threat to themselves or others.
• After reviewing the evidence, the Court could immediately issue an interim ERPO temporarily barring the individual from possessing firearms but must conduct a full hearing within 10 days or the court could schedule a full hearing without issuing the interim ERPO.
• At the hearing, the subject of the petition is provided an attorney, may offer evidence and testimony and may cross-examine any witnesses before a final order can be issued.
• If, after this hearing, the Court determines that there is an extreme risk of harm if continued access to firearms is permitted, the Court shall grant the petition and prohibit access to firearms and ammunition for no more than one year.
• If the petition is granted, the subject of the ERPO may demand a hearing to terminate the ERPO at any time.
• The bill also imposes criminal penalties on any person who files a petition for an ERPO that contains false statements and allows the gun owner to bring a civil cause of action against anyone who attempts to fraudulently obtain an ERPO.

The life-saving importance of this type of legislation has been recognized by leading medical, psychiatric, law enforcement and veterans’ organizations across the Commonwealth and the country.

Last session, the House Judiciary Committee reported my bill out of committee by a vote of 18-9. This legislation provides much-needed due process protections to gun owners while equipping families, law enforcement, and the courts with a tool to prevent a gun owner in crisis from finding a long-term solution to what is most often, a short-term crisis. It is a limited, measured response to stem the volume of firearms suicides in Pennsylvania.

Please join me in sponsoring this legislation.

Introduced as HB1075