Commentary

Anti-democratic behavior on full display in House Judiciary

January 22, 2023 4:40 am

Eric Brandon of Nevada tries out a semi-automatic pistol at The Gun Store Nov. 14, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

We would like to publicly call out the action in the House Judiciary Committee during the Jan. 13 hearing of Representative Ed Stafman’s House Bill 202.

This bill advocated for the establishment of Extreme Risk Protection Orders that would provide procedures for family members and law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from the possession of people who pose a risk to themselves and others.  The bill provided a very diligent due process for this procedure.

On this day, there was no testimony in opposition to the bill.  Families presented personal and painful experiences of both suicides and dangerous situations caused by loved ones.  Testimony was provided on the efficacy of extreme risk protection orders in places where they have been implemented.  The committee had also received dozens of emails all in support of the legislation.

Despite clear support from Montanans, the committee broke with a long-standing protocol that allows for thoughtful dialog on a bill and used a procedural rule to table it instead. Without discussion, this important reform was eliminated on a party-line vote with Democrats objecting.

The goal of extreme risk protection orders would be to preempt gun violence, especially in regard to suicide.  Montana has the second highest suicide rate in our country and ninth highest gun violence rate. Suicide rates for veterans and youth are double the national average.

It is clearly apparent that Montana has an undeniable public health suicide crisis. In the 19 states where ERPOs have been established, there is a documented decrease in suicide. The protective orders are a clearly successful means to combat this crisis.

Implementing ERPOs requires rigorous due process and unmistakable evidence that the respondent poses a threat to themselves or others.  In the vast majority of suicides or other shootings, there has been a pattern of warning behaviors of impending violence.  Family members are often the first to witness such behavior and should have options to intervene before violence occurs.

The actions by GOP members of this committee show a disregard for the wishes of Montanans.

In addition, the action was taken with public witnesses present in the room. Some of these witnesses were still crying after sharing their personal stories. The move to table was disrespectful to them. The Montana Legislature should be a place for hard discussions and debate. It should be a place where successful solutions are heard.

This hearing made it clear the Montana GOP has no interest in the hard work of discussing gun-related issues or solutions.

This commentary was written and submitted by Su Debree, Erin Harris, Shani Henry, Beckie Squires, Shannon Thomas, JoAnn Hanson, Marlene Simms, Linda Beischel, Cara Uribe, Paulette Hutcheon.

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