—In 2020, 41 children a day lost a loved one to gun violence in the country.
That was the sobering statistic reported by Terese LeVallee, director of the Highmark Caring Place, who testified before a special House Children and Youth Committee hearing requested by Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery).
“I called this hearing to get a better handle on the impact gun violence is having on our kids,” Stephens said. “As we learned, gun violence is crippling kids psychologically, and putting severe pressure on surviving families who need state services to help rescue these children and prevent future trauma.”
In the past 25 years, LeVallee said, the deaths reported to the Caring Place, which helps children in distress, have become much more traumatic, from drug overdoses to gun crimes, meaning many grandparents are raising the surviving children. The deaths in turn create “financial struggles, and changes in living arrangements,” which have caused a spike in suicides among children.
According to LeVallee, 1 in 22 children will experience the death of a parent or sibling, while suicide is now the second leading cause of death for children between ages 10 and 14.
“That suicide rate is tragic,” Stephens said. “It’s another reason we need to get guns out of the hands of those dealing with emotional illness.”
Stephens introduced House Bill 1903
to create Extreme Risk Protective Orders (ERPO) as a way to curb gun violence.
Stephens’ 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.
“We talk about the physical aspects of gun violence all the time, but what we don’t necessarily realize is there’s a huge emotional, mental health and violent ripple effect across our communities,” said Joel Fein, MD, MPH, the co-director of the Center for Violence Prevention at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “In Pennsylvania alone, more than 1,700 Pennsylvanians were killed by guns and more than 3,000 were injured in 2020. Sixty percent of those were suicides, with the highest per capita in rural areas.”
Fein told the committee further that “despair plus access to an easy form of suicide are the two risk factors” for a completed suicide.
“I want to thank Rep. Stephens for promoting Red Flag legislation,” Fein said. “The Extreme Risk Protection Orders also do a lot to prevent not just homicides, but suicides. The research is very strong on that.”
Fein also asked the committee members to not only fund programs that work, but to fund the research needed to see which programs work to prevent the state from wasting tax dollars.
Stephens agreed: “The best way to help our kids and stem the spread of violence is to better support them with effective mental health resources and legislation to prevent children from accessing firearms,” he said.
"I appreciate Rep. Stephens and Chairwoman Delozier bringing these issues to the forefront,” said Adam Garber, Executive Director of CeaseFire PA. This hearing must be the start of moving life-saving solutions forward to ensure gun violence is no longer the number one killer of Pennsylvania's youth. It's the very least we can do to honor the memory of all the lives we've already lost."
Representative Todd Stephens
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: David Foster