Commentary

Red flag laws prevent gun suicides and mass shootings. Pa. needs this law now | Opinion

August 23, 2019 6:30 am
Sen. Tom Killion, R-Montgomery, rallies in the Capitol for Senate Bill 90, which would create a Red Flag gun control law.

(Capital-Star file)

By Tom Killion

The numbers are beyond horrific.

Every day in the United States, 100 people are killed with guns and hundreds more are shot and injured.

Nearly two-thirds of all yearly gun deaths in this country are suicides, including over 1,000 children and teens.

In Pennsylvania, gun violence claims more than 1,500 lives every year, with gun suicides comprising 63 percent of firearm deaths. Sixty-five percent of veteran suicides in our state involve a gun.

The everyday toll of gun violence in America is utterly heartbreaking, and this violence routinely shocks the collective soul of our nation.

As we look for solutions to end America’s epidemic of gun violence, one sure way to reduce firearm deaths is through the implementation of Red Flag laws, also known as Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws. To date these laws have been enacted in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

Back on Feb. 14, which was the one-year anniversary of the Parkland, Fla. tragedy where a gunman with a long history of dangerous behavior killed 17 students and school employees, I introduced red flag legislation here in Pennsylvania.

My proposal, Senate Bill 90, would allow our judges to temporarily remove firearms from people in crisis who pose an imminent threat of harming themselves or others. It is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A similar proposal, sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, is now before the state House.

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This non-criminal judicial process is initiated when police officers, family members or household members petition our courts for a hearing to evaluate the threats posed by people who own guns and have shown the “red flags” of extremely dangerous or suicidal behavior.

Importantly, the legislation has been crafted to protect the due process rights of all involved.

This law would create a transparent process in which judges can only order the relinquishment of firearms if there is compelling evidence that individuals pose a serious danger. Long-term orders can only be issued after a full hearing is held, at which all parties can appear and present evidence.

The law would also establish criminal penalties for those who file false petitions with the courts.

Teen organizers from March for Our Lives lobby lawmakers in Harrisburg for ‘red flag’ law

Studies have shown that Red Flag laws reduce firearm suicide rates, as was the case in Connecticut and Indiana where gun suicides decreased by 10 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively, after they enacted ERPO laws.

In addition, research has repeatedly documented that mass shooters typically exhibit dangerous warning signs before they open fire on innocent victims.

Last year, the FBI published a comprehensive study outlining the disturbing characteristics displayed by shooters before they use their guns to kill people. According to an analysis by Everytown for Gun Safety, fully 51% of mass shooters exhibited warning signs.

The emerging body of research is unequivocal on two fronts: Red Flag laws reduce firearm suicides. And specific behavioral characteristics are demonstrated by individuals prior to shootings.

Considering all of this, why would we not want to give law enforcement and loved ones the ability to ask Pennsylvania judges to evaluate whether extremely unsafe or suicidal people should be temporarily disarmed?

The simple truth is red flag laws keep dangerous individuals from causing bloodshed in our communities, schools and even in our own homes. Having this law in Pennsylvania will save lives and help protect our families from America’s gun violence epidemic.

We need to enact a red flag law now.

State Sen. Tom Killion, a Republican, represents the 9th Senate District, which includes parts of Chester and Delaware counties. He writes from Harrisburg.

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