Although family members may be the first to notice early warning signs of a person in crisis, they currently have little recourse to take steps to protect their loved ones. We encourage legislators to introduce bills that would rectify that problem by authorizing local courts to issue “extreme risk protection orders” in this Commonwealth.
We urge PA to provide a mechanism for families and law enforcement to act on what they are observing and to petition the court for an extreme risk protection order when there is good cause to believe an individual poses an immediate threat to himself or others. The following states have enacted ERPO-type laws: Connecticut, California, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Indiana, Florida, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Jersey. Massachusetts, Illinois, and Delaware are in the process of passing their own versions of ERPO.
The term extreme risk protection order is usually defined as “an order entered by the court…prohibiting a named person from having in his custody or control, purchasing, possessing, or receiving any firearm or ammunition.” Put simply, an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) law empowers family members or law enforcement officers to temporarily remove a person’s access to firearms when they are believed to be very likely to harm themselves or others.
Similar to a protection from abuse order authorized under Title 23 (Domestic Relations), the proposed legislation (HB 2227) would give certain persons–including law enforcement officers, family or household members–the authority to petition the court for a firearm restraining order enjoining the subject of the petition from having in his/her custody or control, purchasing, possessing or receiving a firearm. Every such order would be issued for a fixed period of time—not to exceed one year.
Extreme Risk Protection orders would aid individuals, communities, and law enforcement in preventing suicides, homicides and mass shootings (as occurred in Connecticut, California, Colorado, South Carolina, and other jurisdictions) and enhance public safety. Here are some facts that demonstrate why we need an ERPO process:
- From 2014-16 suicides were the most common way for people to die by firearm in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania
- There are around 900 firearm suicides per year in PA
- 42% of mass shooters exhibit warning signs or concerning behavior before their crimes
As described in the outline below, due process protections are built into the ERPO process, including standards of proof to be met, strict timelines on hearings; and strict limits on the time an ERPO order stays in effect and how/whether it can be renewed:
- A petition is filed, and a court issues a temporary order “upon finding of probable cause by law enforcement” until a full hearing is held. Full hearing must be scheduled not less than three, but not more than ten, days after respondent is served.
- Petition for ERPO must be supported by a signed affidavit specifying the facts justifying an order and a list of all firearms known to be in the respondent’s possession.
- At the hearing, a court must find, by clear and convincing evidence, that the person “presents a danger of suicide or causing serious bodily injury to another person.”
- ERPOs can range from 3 months to one year. An ERPO expires at the end of one year unless petitioner successfully files for renewal of the order (subject to re-hearing with same evidentiary standard), or if the respondent successfully challenges through a termination hearing (respondent’s burden of proof, same standard).
- Initial relinquishment of weapons must be to law enforcement. Law enforcement required to report ERPO to PICS and NICS.
- A person who does not relinquish his/her firearm after an ERPO is entered commits a first-degree misdemeanor.
- Once an ERPO expires, weapons/concealed carry license are to be returned to respondent immediately, without any additional hearing.
What Can You Do?
Urge your legislators to support an ERPO law.