HARRISBURG—Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery), a former federal firearms prosecutor, has announced that he will introduce legislation to help families and law enforcement to better prevent suicides and gun violence. Stephens’s bill would create an Extreme Risk Protective Order (ERPO).
“It is clear that we must do more to address the issues arising from those with mental health issues who pose a threat to themselves or others,” Stephens said.
“We must create a way for family members or law enforcement to ask a judge to temporarily prohibit certain individuals from possessing firearms or ammunition, and to relinquish any firearms or ammunition they may currently have, to prevent them from doing harm.”
The ERPO would allow a court to take the precautions necessary when provided with clear and convincing evidence the subject poses an extreme risk to him or herself or others.
If a court issues an ERPO prohibiting an individual from possessing firearms, that information would be promptly submitted to the Pennsylvania State Police to prevent the individual from purchasing firearms as well.
“Under my bill, a court could immediately issue a temporary ERPO, but it must then conduct a full hearing in an expedited manner where the subject of the order may participate and offer evidence and testimony before a final order may be issued,” Stephens said.
“Final orders must be as short as safety allows but may not last more than one year.
Under the bill, the district attorney would represent the petitioner, while a public defender would represent the respondent at the hearing for a final order.
The bill will also impose criminal penalties on any person who files a petition for an ERPO that contains false statements.
“This approach has been embraced by groups on both sides of the gun issue and I’m hopeful we can move this commonsense legislation to give families and law enforcement another tool to combat gun violence,” explained Stephens.
Stephens has had success in policy changes to address gun violence in the past, including the effort to ensure the Pennsylvania State Police sent over 600,000 records of individuals prohibited from purchasing firearms to the national background check database, and his legislation to increase penalties for those who illegally possess firearms.
He has also introduced House Bill 2071 to fight workplace violence by authorizing employers to implement safeguards against workplace violence and preventing municipalities from prohibiting those safeguards.
Stephens also introduced House Bill 1091 of 2015-16 to combat gun violence and straw purchasers in the Commonwealth by getting illegal guns off the streets by imposing serious penalties to deter felons from illegally possessing firearms; House Bill 1632 of 2015-16 to add mandatory sentences to ensure defendants who commit crimes of violence with firearms receive the punishment they deserve; and House Bill 1498 of 2015-16 to require the Pennsylvania State Police to send all existing mental health data within 90 days to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). NICS is used to check the background of individuals attempting to acquire a firearm nationwide.
In the 2013-14 term, Stephens introduced House Bill 1001 to close a loophole that makes it a misdemeanor for someone adjudicated of a disqualifying offense as a juvenile who subsequently carries an illegal firearm; and to provide that juveniles adjudicated of felony drug-dealing charges who subsequently possess an illegal firearm are prohibited from carrying a firearm for 15 years or until they reach the age of 30, whichever is earlier. Adults convicted of such a crime are prohibited from possessing firearms altogether.