Nineteen states currently have enacted legislation enabling Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs), also known as “red flag” laws. These laws enable family members and associates to petition a judge to take away legal weapons from an individual if that person is undergoing mental health or other stressful challenges that may put them at risk to harm themselves or others.
Family members in crisis often exhibit signs or “red flags” that they are in crisis before taking their own lives. They can often make a quick decision to take their life, especially when a gun is readily available.
ERPO laws have proven effective in preventing suicides or incidents in which someone might use a weapon to harm put others at risk for injury or death. A study by Yale University, Duke University and the University of Connecticut concluded that numerous suicides have been prevented by allowing police to seize guns from people classified as potentially violent or suicidal.
In 2019, a staggering 63% of PA gun deaths were suicides, many of which could have been prevented if firearms were not readily available. While gun violence is often associated with urban areas, data show that rural Pennsylvanians are most at risk for suicide by gun.
Despite the evidence and strong bipartisan support for an effective red-flag law in Pennsylvania, several proposed bills have been held in committee year after year without debate or a vote. The reason is that a single committee chair, who represents less than half of one percent of PA citizens, has the power under the rules of the legislature to block bills without explanation. The chair can and does determine which bills will receive discussion and a vote in committee; therefore, the chair can functionally veto bills before debate and a vote. PA House Judiciary Committee Chair Rob Kauffman publicly stated that no red flag law will ever be discussed in the committee while he is chair, and no proposed bills introduced since 2018 have ever had hearings or votes.
Kauffman is not alone in using a chair’s power to bury bills. Dozens of bills, also with strong bipartisan public and legislative support, have also been blocked for years. It is yet more evidence that we need to reform our rules to assure that bills with support get hearings and votes. Until then, our voices cannot be heard!
Read the Memo to House Member from Reps Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery) and Jennifer O’Mara (D- Montgomery), March 22, 2021