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House of Representatives
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: March 22, 2021 04:24 PM
From: Representative Todd Stephens and Rep. Jennifer O'Mara
To: All House members
Subject: Extreme Risk Protective Orders- Using Data Driven, Evidence-Based Practices to Reduce Suicides
Sadly, too many Pennsylvanians’ lives are taken each year with firearms.  However, the data may surprise you. While homicides are widely publicized, far more Pennsylvanians die by the hidden tragedy of suicide. In 2019, of the 1541 firearms-related fatalities in PA, 964 or 63% were suicides. The vast majority of those deaths were male (89%) and 93% were white. The data shows that those living in rural Pennsylvania are most at risk.  The top twenty counties for firearm-related death by suicide, per capita, in the most recent decade are Wayne, Elk, Carbon, Clarion, Schuylkill, Clearfield, Fulton, Susquehanna, Bedford, Montour, Huntingdon, Perry, Lawrence, Jefferson, Wyoming, Bradford, Potter, Venango, Cambria, and Crawford.  Many of these deaths are preventable if we follow the data and provide temporary, evidence-based interventions before it’s too late.

We are reintroducing legislation to create Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs).  ERPOs provide a mechanism for loved ones, family members, or law enforcement to ask a Judge to hold a hearing to temporarily disarm someone in crisis.  The fathers, grandfathers, brothers, sons and other family members in crisis often exhibit signs or “red flags” that they are in crisis before taking their own lives. Unfortunately, the data shows that the decision to take one’s own life is typically made quickly. The data further shows that a firearms is the most effective means for an individual to die by suicide.  Most importantly and unsurprisingly, the data shows that temporarily separating someone in crisis from their firearms can save their life. Here is how ERPOs reduce suicides and prevent violence while providing far more due process than the current interventions available to family members:
  • 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 provide a full hearing within 10 days. The court could also 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 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.
Currently, the only intervention available for loved ones to keep family members in crisis safe is a 302 involuntary commitment.  An involuntary commitment has a very narrow scope and many individuals in crisis are not eligible.  While the 302 involuntary commitment process works well in some instances, it is a severe intervention depriving someone of their liberty, holding them against their will, away from their family, loved ones and job for up to 5 days with no due process.  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 a 302 given the severe ramifications.

At least nineteen other states across the political spectrum have adopted some form of ERPOs. These states are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington.  A 2017 University of Indianapolis study of Indiana and Connecticut’s laws found they reduced firearms suicide by 7.5% and 13.6% respectively. 

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. This legislation provides much-needed due process protections to gun owners while equipping families and law enforcement 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 that will reduce suicides in Pennsylvania.

Please join us in sponsoring this legislation.

Introduced as HB1903