Commentary

I’m a Pa. veteran. We need an ERPO law to fight the epidemic of veteran suicide | Opinion

September 18, 2019 6:30 am

State Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, speaks during a rally in the Pa. Capitol rotunda on 9/17/19. He is the House sponsor of legislation authorizing an extreme risk protection order law in Pennsylvania, which proponents say will reduce firearms deaths (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

(Editor’s Note: Heath Copeland, an Army veteran, and member of the Capital region branch of the anti-gun violence advocacy group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, delivered remarks during a rally in the Pennsylvania Capitol rotunda on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. These are his remarks, as prepared for delivery. They have been lightly edited for clarity.)

By Heath Copeland

I am Heath Copeland, former Army medic, nurse, husband, father of an amazing 5-year-old, and man enough to be a Mom.

I am proud to be here today, to stand with my service veteran peers; legislators from both sides of the aisle, and with Pennsylvania Moms. I am humbled to give voice to my brothers and sisters who had their voices silenced by suicide. To give voice to their families, whose lives have been scarred by an action that can never be undone.

Guns are ubiquitous in the life of a veteran. We survive our drill sergeants in boot camp. We survive separation from our wives and children during training exercises.

We survive days spent with rifles and grenades and tanks. Many of us, the lucky ones, survive deployment after deployment, returning home with wounds — both physical and the ones that only those closest to us see. And many — too many — don’t survive these wounds.

On average, 20 veterans die by suicide every single day in America. And Pennsylvania’s service veteran suicide rate is [consistently] higher than the national numbers.

More than 180 of our Pennsylvania veterans lost their lives to suicide by gun in 2016. This is unacceptable.

Pennsylvania’s service veterans deserve better. We know that easy access to firearms is a major risk factor for suicide. We know that temporarily interrupting firearm access can save lives.

That has been shown by other states that have [extreme risk protection order] laws. We need to bring this proven suicide reduction tool here to Pennsylvania.

For veterans, ERPO will not permanently remove the ability to own their firearm, which is important. For like I said, guns are a part of life for many veterans. But when we’re in a temporary crisis, we need to enable our families to stop us from making a permanent, irreparable decision.

To my brothers and sisters, there is light out there.

Our husbands, wives, children, and parents need us.

Today, I am here to fight to give them a tool that can be used to save our lives. Today, these mothers and others will remind our lawmakers that Pennsylvania veterans need their help. Pennsylvania veterans, thank you all for your service.

Heath Copeland writes from Camp Hill, Pa.

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