Too many Pa. veterans are dying by suicide. Tell your lawmakers that Red Flag laws save lives | Opinion

Lauren Johnson, a U.S. Air Force reservist from Philadelphia, speaks during a state Capitol rally on Tuesday, 9/17/19, where she called on lawmakers to pass a Red Flag law bill (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

By Emily Balog and Matt Miclette

As veterans coming home from deployment, we expect to find a community safe from the terror we experienced in war.

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania and the United States face their own battles. We are confronted with the realities of children being killed at school, veteran suicide, intimate partner homicide, deadly attacks at places of worship, and community violence.

The common factor is too often a firearm. The very tool we used to protect our fellow service members and this great country, is being used to harm those we have sacrificed to protect.

We must look for solutions to end all forms of gun violence, from suicide to mass shootings starting here in Pennsylvania. Gun violence is one of our leading causes of injury and death. In fact, the Commonwealth ranks fourth in the country in firearm deaths.

There is something we can do to end this violence. Through supporting actionable legislation, Pennsylvanians can prevent tragedies beginning right here in our state.

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We as veterans know what it means to be unwavering in a mission. Through our work with leading experts, advocates, and community leaders, we understand that gun violence is not just an “urban problem.” Two out of three firearm deaths in the Commonwealth are suicide, most prevalent in rural communities.

That is why we support Emergency Risk Protection Orders (ERPO), also known as a Red Flag Law. Bills authorizing this law are now pending in the Pennsylvania House and Senate.

Passed in 17 states, ERPOs are proven to prevent tragedies before they happen. Indiana and Connecticut have seen 7.5 percent and 13.7 percent reductions in firearm related suicides, respectively, since ERPOs were implemented in those states.

Eighty-five percent of suicide attempts with a firearm result in death, compared to 3 percent of drug overdoses which demonstrates it as the most common form of attempted suicide.

Lethality matters: 9 out of 10 people who survive an initial suicide attempt will not die from suicide at a later date. The rate of suicides by firearm by veterans and first responders is even higher than the general public with suicide accounting for more deaths than those lost in the line of duty.

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Supporting ERPO can directly impact these veterans and first responders allowing them to seek needed services.

There are current barriers to reporting concerning behavior of loved ones. For instance, there is a risk of permanent removal and inability to purchase firearms in the future, as a result of involuntary psychiatric hospitalization, known as a  “302” commitment.

ERPOs provide families and law enforcement officials with a formal legal process for an order to temporarily remove guns from dangerous situations if an individual poses a danger to themselves or others. This is a legal petition with due process to ensure the rights of firearm owners are protected. These orders are temporary and can be repealed.

We must unite as Pennsylvanians to solve this problem. This legislation preserves the Second Amendment and the right of its citizens to be free from the threat of gun violence.

Polling conducted prior to the mass shooting in Dayton and El Paso identified that the vast majority of Americans, including over 60 percent of firearm owners, support ERPOs.

Additional federal legislation for ERPO is proposed and is politically feasible. Federal support will only further help with implementation, but we cannot afford to wait for Congress, we must begin here in Pennsylvania.

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

ERPO, an evidence-based state strategy, represents an opportunity to come together as Pennsylvanians to begin solving problems together again. Let us set an example here in the Commonwealth.

We strongly encourage you to join us in supporting evidence-based policies to reduce the deaths of our fellow veterans, family, and friends within our communities that we sacrificed to protect.

Contact your state legislators now and urge them to represent you by supporting ERPO and the House version sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery.

Emily Balog and Matt Miclette write on behalf of Action Tank, a group of Philadelphia-area military veteran working to improve the lives of America’s former servicemen and women. 


  1. Red flag laws don’t put a dent in Veteran suicide rate. These guys receive treatment from the worst possible medical care system in the U.S. VA medical care should be traded in for Veteran choice of doctors and facilities. And it should not be limited as Medicare is. It should offer at least the level of insurance made available to the Congress, and so called Cadillac plans provided to unions and other special people.

    Red flag laws were created to dilute power licensed to the psychiatric community and transfer it to unqualified persons more obedient to democrats, e.g., local judges and disgruntled aunts. Due process demands reports from two psychiatrists, one from each side, legal representation, arraignment, indictment and trial by jury. Democrats and weak minded Republicans are victims of the bum’s rush.

    Nobody wants criminals to have firearms but politicians on both sides who support this notion will regret the day they ever heard of red flag laws. They’re so incendiary, they could cost the president his deserved reelection. Their legacies will carry a Supreme Court scolding and perhaps be the landmark of their careers. To be taken seriously, if the accused is a danger to himself or others, he should be arrested.

    In other words, take the man but leave the guns. The natural line of inheritance will dictate who becomes custodian of the guns. Writers, politicians and demonstrators have been hoodwinked by Bloomberg’s rhetoric and haven’t read his 2018 data. It reveals gun homicides declined seven percent, firearm injuries declined 10 percent, fatal child shootings (under 18) declined 12 percent and unintentional shootings plummeted 21 percent.

    None of this hysteria is justified. Since 1991, the murder rate has fallen by 45 percent and the overall violent crime rate has fallen by 48 percent. It’s bizarre that Bloomberg wants to change all that. Since 1999, the statistical probability of a student being killed in school by a gun has been one in 614 million. Your chances of being struck by lightning this year are one in 700,000.

    Inexplicably, Bloomberg wants everyone to believe the nation is in crisis, suffering an epidemic. Folks, there is no crisis, no epidemic. Generally, shooting incidents involving students have been declining since the ’90s. Fact is all but three mass shooters in recent history passed a background check. Two stole their rifles. The other one bought from a guy who assembled it from parts and sold it from home. Long guns are used in less than 2% of firearm homicides.

    During that time, citizens were buying a record number of firearms. In 2018, more than 26 million firearms were purchased, a number exceeded only by 27.5 million in 2016 when purchasers were mortified that Hillary might be elected. Democrats want US citizens to believe making the U.S. safer for criminals will make it safer for their victims. Ask yourself, do you believe being disarmed makes you safer? What kind of political leader would disarm his people while howling about the peril they face?

    These laws have not considered all the possible areas they might harm. For example, what if a crotchety old aunt complained about a blustery nephew who also is a Federal Firearms Licensee and established dealer? What if the nephew is a licensee who operates a pawn shop? What if the nephew stores a neighbor’s firearms because his safe is large enough? What about a nephew whose firearms are stored somewhere else? And so on.

    The Supreme Court isn’t about to jeopardize its own reputation by reducing the ability of private citizens to defend themselves. It’s especially important because currently, half the nation’s murders occur in only 63 counties while the other half are spread across the other 3,081 counties. Said another way, 15 percent had one murder and 54 percent of the nation’s counties had no murders at all.

    Besides, they’re sick of our paralyzed congress creating ambiguous laws that ultimately land in the Supreme Court. They know it’s easy to blame the tools used for murder and to write acts that impede acquisition by peaceable, lawful citizens.


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