HARRISBURG—Reps. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery) and Jennifer O’Mara (D-Delaware) marked Suicide Prevention Month by announcing they will reintroduce legislation to create Extreme Risk Protective Orders (ERPO) as a way to reduce suicides in Pennsylvania.
“More than 60% of firearm related deaths in Pennsylvania and across the nation are suicides,” Stephens said. “We must create a way for family members or law enforcement to temporarily prohibit individuals in crisis from possessing firearms or ammunition, and to relinquish any firearms or ammunition they may currently have, to prevent them from doing irreparable harm to themselves or others.”
“We know laws like this work,” O’Mara said. “We have the data from other states to prove it. Where enacted, suicide rates have declined, giving individuals the critical time needed to find resources for the help they need. It is well documented that placing time between an individual in crisis and a means to harm themselves or others results in those individuals finding better outcomes then ending their lives, or the lives of others.”
Stephens said the latest statistics from Pennsylvania on gun deaths detail the need for the bill:
• More than 60% of gun deaths in 2019 were from gun suicide.
• The top 20 counties for firearm-related deaths 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.
• In 2019, 270 veterans died from suicide, with 69% dying by firearm.
The bill would allow a court to take the precautions necessary when provided with clear and convincing evidence the subject poses an extreme risk to himself or herself or others. If a court issues an ERPO prohibiting an individual from possessing firearms, that information would be promptly submitted to the Pennsylvania State Police to prevent the individual from purchasing firearms as well.
While a court could immediately issue a temporary ERPO, it must follow up with a full expedited hearing where the subject of the order may participate and offer evidence and testimony before a final order is issued. Final orders must be as short as safety allows but may not last more than one year.
Under this process, a district attorney could represent the petitioner, while a public defender could represent the respondent at the hearing for a final order.
The bill will also impose criminal penalties on any person who maliciously files a petition for an ERPO that contains false statements.
“The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Pennsylvania chapters applaud Rep. Stephens and Rep. O'Mara for introducing the Extreme Risk Protection Order bill, which will create a new tool to help prevent suicide across our Commonwealth,” said Samantha Bruno, area director, Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “This legislation will provide families and law enforcement with a mechanism to temporarily separate individuals from a firearm when voluntary efforts are unsuccessful or impossible and suicide risk is imminent, allowing time for the intense suicidal impulse to pass and for someone to intervene with mental health support and resources,”
“During Suicide Prevention Month, it's time to put another tool in the toolbox for family members who know a loved one is in crisis: Extreme Risk Protection Orders,” said Adam Garber, executive director of CeaseFirePA. “Once it becomes law, they will finally be able to temporarily remove the most lethal method used in suicide attempts, firearms. until the individual can get the help they need.”
"Extreme Risk Protection Orders are a critical resource needed to combat Veteran suicide. Records available indicate that roughly 260 Pennsylvania Veterans commit suicide each year -- of those, nearly 70% use a firearm," said Dr. Ben Stahl, a Navy Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and CEO of Veterans Leadership Program, a non-profit organization providing services to 6,500 Veterans and military families in Western and Central Pennsylvania each year. "This legislation acknowledges the importance Veterans place on responsible firearm ownership, while also acknowledging that when a Veteran is in crisis, temporarily restricting their access to firearms keeps that Veteran, their family, and their community safe by providing time to access the resources and supports they need for a long-term solution to what is often a short-term problem. Thank you to Representatives Stephens and O'Mara for the leadership they have demonstrated through their introduction of this lifesaving legislation."
Other groups that have endorsed Stephens’ efforts in the past are Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence, founded following the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and committed to stemming the national gun death epidemic; Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, created to demand action from legislatures, companies and educational institutions to establish common-sense gun reforms; Everytown for Gun Safety; the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association; and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.
“I’m hopeful we can move this commonsense legislation quickly to give families and law enforcement another tool to help save lives,” Stephens said.
Representative Todd Stephens
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: David Foster