Soldiers lining up for the annual New York City Veterans Day Parade (Getty Images)
Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
If you’ve spent any amount of time around the Capitol, then you know it’s not uncommon for Pennsylvania’s 253-member General Assembly to shower deserved praise on active and retired members of the U.S, Armed Services, or to solemnly honor those who have fallen in the line of duty.
Lawmakers often pass resolutions renaming roads and bridges for Pennsylvania service members and veterans. And they will occasionally pass legislation enhancing the benefits and protections that veterans and service members enjoy under state law.
Just this week, for instance, the Republican-controlled House unanimously passed a bill authorizing the awarding of medals to foreign nationals and civilian personnel who aid our troops. The bill is now before the state Senate.
But when lawmakers were given a real opportunity to help service members and veterans this week, they flubbed it in the worst way possible.
Here’s how it happened.
On Monday, the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee effectively buried a package of gun violence-reduction bills, mainly authored by Democrats, by exiling them to an unrelated House panel where their chance of receiving a vote is almost nonexistent, the Capital-Star reported.
One of those bills, sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, seeks to authorize the creation of extreme risk protection orders, which allow for the temporary, court-ordered seizure of someone’s weapons if it’s shown that they pose an immediate danger to themselves or to others.
Such orders, popularly known as a “red flag” law, have been shown to prevent firearms suicides, based on analysis of data in two states, Indiana and Connecticut, where they are on the books, according to a CNN fact-check.
The proposals enjoy bipartisan backing, with such conservatives as U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., saying they support them, according to Axios.
The laws also preserve due process. That’s because petitioners seeking to seize weapons, usually law enforcement or family, must meet a burden of proof.
Gun owners are allowed to contest the orders in the case of the long-term seizure of someone’s weapons, as legal scholars Joseph Blocher and Jake Charles wrote in a Washington Post op-ed earlier this month. And the courts, they add, have not seen any constitutional issue.
The numbers also have shown that veterans are particularly at-risk for firearms suicides, and thus stand to benefit the most from the laws.
Nationwide, about 17 veterans die by suicide every day, and 12 die by a self-inflicted firearm injury, according to RISE: Veterans, a Pennsylvania-based advocacy group.
Of the 498 suicide deaths among service members in 2019, 318, or 64 percent, involved a firearm, the group said, citing 2020 U.S. Department of Defense data. And while veterans comprise around 7 percent of the nation’s adult population, they account for 18 percent of the country’s gun suicide deaths, the group said.
The emergency orders “do not strip the rights of veterans,” and they prevent “permanent restrictions” on firearms ownership, the group’s executive director, Aryanna Wagner, a veteran, wrote in a letter to state policymakers.
The red flag laws, which also enjoy popular support, “provide law enforcement officials with a formal, legal process for an order to temporarily remove guns from dangerous situations,” Wagner wrote. “ … It is our hope that Pennsylvania legislators are serious about addressing the epidemic of veteran suicide, and support a legal tool to protect our community of veterans in the commonwealth.”
Unfortunately, based on Monday’s committee action in the House, there’s no evidence that’s the case. The Judiciary Committee’s chairperson, Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin, has previously said he will not bring a red flag law bill to a vote while he’s in charge.
During Monday’s session, at least one Democratic lawmaker on the panel, Rep. Liz Hanbidge, of Montgomery County, appealed against exiling Stephens’ bill, and the others in the package, the House’s Local Government Committee.
“One of the most at-risk groups for gun suicides is our veterans. One in five gun suicide victims are veterans,” Hanbidge, a former suicide prevention counselor, told her colleagues.
Taking guns out of the hands of people contemplating death by suicide prevents them from making “short-term decisions with very long-term consequences,” she added.
After Monday’s meeting, Stephens, a former prosecutor, told the Capital-Star that, while the General Assembly has focused much of its attention on cracking down on gun crime in the state’s largest cities, it has done vanishingly little to address the issue of firearms suicide.
If they were serious, he added, Republicans, who mainly represent the state’s vast rural middle, would realize that this is an issue that hits them in their own wheelhouse, since suicide deaths are rising in rural Pennsylvania.
“Suicide is the larger problem where we haven’t focused enough attention,” Stephens said. “We need another tool in our toolbox.”
What’s particularly galling about the House committee’s action this week is that the gun reform framework now before lawmakers on Capitol Hill incentivizes states to pass such laws. As of Thursday, that language, however, had emerged as a sticking point in negotiations, according to ABC News.
But I’ll turn to the data again: Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have red flag laws in place, according to Marketplace. And for every 10 to 20 red flag orders that are issued, you avert one suicide, NPR reported, citing data compiled by a researcher at the University of California, Davis.
That may not sound like a lot. But for the family and loved ones of a veteran thinking about suicide, that’s the difference between an empty place at the table, or having them with you.
Passing a red flag law is the best, and most effective, way Pennsylvania lawmakers can honor the service of Pennsylvania’s veterans and the people who wear the uniform.
They should not pass it up.
Abortion is still legal in Pennsylvania. Staff Reporter Marley Parish runs down what you need to know about existing requirements and access.
The U.S. Senate has passed landmark legislation to aid veterans exposed to burn pits and Agent Orange. U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., was among the Republicans to vote against the bill, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Jennifer Shutt writes.
On our Commentary Page: Former President Donald Trump is a domestic enemy. We should treat him like one, Quentin Young, of our sibling site, Colorado Newsline, writes. And former Cumberland County Commissioner Jim Hertzler has a question for the General Assembly: Where’s that property tax relief you promised the taxpayers?
The Inquirer runs down what you need to know about Philadelphia’s new tax and budget plans.
Vice President Kamala Harris will discuss the city’s lead problem during a visit to Pittsburgh today, the Post-Gazette reports.
A former Dauphin County political candidate has been charged in the death of her husband, who was a retired deputy sheriff, PennLive reports.
A former Lancaster County school superintendent is suing his old district, charging libel, LancasterOnline reports (subscriber-only).
Officials in Dover, York County, have signed off on a solar power project — with some strings attached, the York Dispatch reports.
A disputed 2021 judicial contest in Lehigh County has been settled by a margin of five votes, the Morning Call reports.
GOP U.S. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz barnstormed in Luzerne County on Thursday, where he sent get-well soon wishes to Democratic opponent, John Fetterman, the Citizens’ Voice reports.
A ban on assault-style weapons will become law in Delaware, WHYY-FM reports.
Pennsylvania lost 4.2 million chickens as a result of the avian flu outbreak, the Associated Press reports (via WITF-FM).
City officials in Erie have hired nine new police officers, but a $14.5 million policing plan is in flux, GoErie reports.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney talks to City & State Pa. about his highs and lows in office.
Trump lawyer John Eastman reportedly sought a pardon after the plan to topple the election flopped, Politico reports.
Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:
View this post on Instagram
What Goes On
The desk is clear. Enjoy the silence.
As of this writing, Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.
It’s Friday. Here’s an entire playlist of classic UK Garage bangers to get your weekend started in fine style. Home office dance parties are actively encouraged.
Friday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link
In an AL East battle of the birds, the Baltimore Orioles beat the Toronto Blue Jays 10-2 on the road on Thursday. The fifth-place Os are 28-37 on the season so far.
And now you’re up to date.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.