Apr. 19, 2018

By Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery)

It’s time to take action on #ERPOinPA.

Five states. Five tragedies. One common response.

Oregon, 2016 – A 31-year-old veteran of the U.S. Navy committed suicide with a firearm. His father, a U.S. Army Special Forces veteran himself, and a state senator from Oregon, painfully explained that his son never fully recovered from the trauma of war. Speaking on the Senate floor after losing his son, the senator shared the painful stories of the three members of his own command who committed suicide during the second Iraq war.

California, 2014 - Three weeks before a 22-year-old went on a shooting spree killing six people in Isla Vista and killing himself, the family applied for an emergency commitment against the gunman for making homicidal and suicidal threats but he didn’t meet the minimum criteria. Teachers, family members and friends all reported he was withdrawn, depressed and severely troubled as far back as high school. Someone even remarked that he “looked like a serial killer” in a video he posted online before the murders.

Washington, 2015 – A 23-year-old man described by his mother as depressed and increasingly violent was nonetheless able to legally purchase the firearm he used to kill his 21-year-old stepsister and himself in their family home.

Indiana, 2003 – An Indianapolis police officer was killed and other officers were wounded while responding to reports of a man shooting up the streets of Indianapolis. Officers justifiably killed the shooter. Before taking to the streets to shoot and kill police officers, the gunman had killed his own mother. Police officers had previously seized all the gunman’s firearms because of his erratic and threatening behavior but had to return his guns to him.

Connecticut, 1999 - A disgruntled employee who had been passed over for a promotion showed up at the lottery office with a gun and shot and killed four managers before killing himself. Co-workers and the gunman’s own father reported he was troubled, depressed and had previously attempted suicide.

These five states adopted extreme risk protection orders or “red flags” laws following these shootings. At least 30 states and the District of Columbia are now considering this type of legislation to prevent tragedies. From one end of the country to the other and across the political spectrum, state legislatures are recognizing we need to do more to identify people who are too dangerous at that time to possess a firearm. It’s time for Pennsylvania to act too.

My legislation, House Bill 2227, will create Extreme Risk Protection Orders in Pennsylvania allowing law enforcement and family members to request that a court temporarily seize the guns of someone who is a danger to themselves or others while protecting their rights. Respondents would receive a full hearing where they may cross-examine witnesses, present their own witnesses or evidence and be represented by counsel. My legislation also provides penalties for anyone lying to obtain an Extreme Risk Protection Order.

Over 60 percent of all firearms deaths are suicides and in a study of mass shootings from 2009-16, 42 percent of the attackers had shown warning signs of violent behavior.

I would love to say that Pennsylvania should enact my legislation to protect our law enforcement, our children and our families before we face an incident like those I’ve described above but it may be too late.

Pennsylvania, 2014 – One state trooper was killed and another wounded when they were ambushed by gunfire outside their state police barracks in northeast Pennsylvania. The killer was apprehended and ultimately tried and convicted. In 2008, he created a Myspace page posting videos of himself engaged in military simulations as a Serbian soldier. Reports indicate he was enamored with a notorious Serbian Army unit that reportedly committed atrocities and whose leader had been tried for war crimes, and in 2013 he typed a note on his computer warning his parents about the impending revolution. Legal documents suggest others may have been aware he hated police, had been researching police stations and amassing a stockpile of weapons and ammunition.

It’s time to adopt extreme risk protection orders in Pennsylvania so we can prevent tragedies before more occur.

It’s time to take action on #ERPOinPA.

Representative Todd Stephens
151st District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: David Foster
RepToddStephens.com / Facebook.com/RepToddStephens