Commentary

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

October 2, 2019 6:30 am

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.

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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. 

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