Up to 80% of those considering suicide show signs of their intentions. Although family members may be the first to notice early warning signs of a person in crisis, they currently have little recourse to take steps to protect their loved ones. We encourage legislators to support bills that would rectify that problem by authorizing local courts to issue “Extreme Risk Protection Orders” in this Commonwealth.
We urge PA to provide a mechanism for families and law enforcement to act on what they are observing and to petition the court for an extreme risk protection order when there is good cause to believe an individual poses an immediate threat to themselves or others.
The term extreme risk protection order is usually defined as “an order entered by the court…prohibiting a named person from having in his custody or control, purchasing, possessing, or receiving any firearm or ammunition.” Put simply, an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) law empowers family members or law enforcement officers to temporarily remove a person’s access to firearms when they are believed to be very likely to harm themselves or others.
The proposed legislation would give law enforcement officers and family members the ability to petition the court for an order enjoining the subject of the petition from having in their custody or control, purchasing, possessing or receiving a firearm. Every such order would be issued for a fixed period of time— from 3 months to one year.
Extreme Risk Protection orders would aid individuals, communities, and law enforcement in preventing suicides, homicides and mass shootings and enhance public safety. Here are some facts that demonstrate why we need an ERPO process:
- From 2014-16 suicides were the most common way for people to die by firearm in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
- There are approximately 900 firearm suicides per year in PA
- 42% of mass shooters exhibit warning signs or concerning behavior before their crimes
Due process protections are built into the ERPO process, including standards of proof to be met, strict timelines on hearings; and strict limits on the time an ERPO order stays in effect and how/whether it can be renewed.
As described in the outline below, due process protections are built into the ERPO process, including standards of proof to be met, strict timelines on hearings; and strict limits on the time an ERPO order stays in effect and how/whether it can be renewed:
- Testify during the hearing
- Present evidence
- Cross-examine other witnesses
- Be represented by counsel
- Have counsel appointed if they cannot afford counsel
- Petition for early termination of the ERPO
- Bear a lower burden of proof (preponderance of the evidence) when petitioning for early termination of the order
- Have their firearm rights automatically restored when the order expires
- Will have ERPO information removed from state and federal background check systems when the order expires
- Receive their firearms back when the order expires
- Determine whether or not to issue an ERPO in a civil process
- Only issue an ERPO if there is evidence of behavior or events occurring in the last 12 months
- Rule that the subject presents a substantial and imminent risk of violence to themselves or others and can temporarily suspend firearm access following an ex party hearing but only for a limited time (5 days for hearing officers/ 10 days for judge) until a full hearing can be held
- Only issue an order based on behaviors and events, not labels
- Designate the subject as a prohibited firearms purchaser in the federal and state background check systems during the period of issuance
- Require the subject to turn over their firearms to law enforcement within 24 hours if an order is granted
- Only last for one year
- Be renewed if there is a petition for renewal and if it is determined by clear and convincing evidence that the risk of the subject harming themselves or others still exists
- Purchase or posses a firearm during the period the order is in effect
- Order an ERPO in the absence of behaviors or events having occurred within the past 12 months
- Issue an ERPO only based on a diagnosis
- Be filed for maliciously or with the intent to harass the subject. It would be a crime to file a false petition
What can you do?
Urge your state representatives and senators to support HB 1075 and SB 90.
Click here to check out CeaseFirePA’s ERPO Fact Sheet