Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks during a markup of H.R. 1236, the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act of 2019:
“Last month, the country was rocked by news of mass shootings on two successive days, in El Paso, Texas—where 22 people were killed and 26 were wounded—and in Dayton, Ohio—where 9 people were killed and 27 others were injured. Just a few weeks later, a gunman in Odessa, Texas took the lives of 7 more people. In total, 53 people were killed in mass shootings in August alone.
“At a vigil to commemorate the victims in Dayton, the Governor’s speech was drowned out by calls to ‘Do something!’ Today, we will. This Committee has already passed two important gun safety measures, the “Bipartisan Background Checks Act” and the ‘Enhanced Background Checks Act,’ both of which passed the House in February and are being blocked in the Senate by the Republican Majority. But that will not stop this Committee. Today, we consider three more measures that would help prevent the tragic gun violence that has engulfed this nation in recent years.
“I want to emphasize, however, that we are not taking these additional actions simply to respond to mass shootings. As has been our motivation with respect to the gun safety bills the Committee has already considered, we are acting because of the urgent need to respond to the daily toll of gun violence in our communities, whether they are mass shootings or not and whether or not they make national headlines. There is no single bill that will address all of these issues, and that is why we are considering additional bills today.
“More than 35,000 Americans lose their lives because of guns every year. Every day in America, on average, 34 people are murdered with a firearm. Gun violence of this magnitude is a distinctly American problem. A country to country comparison is shocking. For example, in 2011 the United Kingdom had 146 deaths due to gun violence; Denmark, 71; Portugal, 142; and Japan, just 30. But in the United States, more than 35,000. Even when you adjust for population differences, Americans are disproportionally killed by gun violence.
“A recent study in the American Journal of Medicine found that, compared to 22 other high-income countries, the gun-related murder rate in the United States is 25 times higher. The President and others try to pin blame for gun violence on mental illness, but we know that the United States does not have a rate of mental illness that is 25 times higher than the rest of the world. That is clearly not the source of our gun violence crisis.
“We must approach this issue with a range of solutions and with a sense of urgency. That is why we are taking action today. The first gun safety bill we will consider, H.R. 1236, the “Extreme Risk Protection Order Act of 2019,” provides funding to states to enact Extreme Risk Protection statutes that empower law enforcement and families to petition courts to intervene when individuals in crisis pose a danger to themselves or others.
“This bill encourages states and localities to take meaningful steps to prevent gun violence tragedies at home and in their communities, while at the same time protecting the due process rights of those individuals in crisis. Under this legislation, states and localities are encouraged, through funding assistance, to pass laws that ensure a court may issue an extreme risk protection order removing firearms from a person in crisis and preventing them from purchasing firearms only after making a finding that there is evidence demonstrating that the person poses a significant danger of injuring himself, herself, or others.
“The judge considering the petition from law enforcement or family members would authorize temporary firearms restrictions for up to 30 days. To extend the length of the firearms restriction for up to a year, the court must afford the firearm owner a full hearing, ensuring the person’s due process rights, to contest the petition. H.R. 1236 strikes the appropriate balance between protecting the rights of the gun owner and ensuring community safety.
“The Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute that I will offer shortly will include provisions based on H.R. 3076—introduced by our colleague, the Gentlewoman from Georgia, Ms. McBath—that authorize the issuance of an extreme risk protection order by a federal court when law enforcement, family members, or household members seek one. The inclusion of this federal mechanism is an explicit acknowledgement that gun violence and mass shootings, unfortunately, have no bounds. Every jurisdiction in this country has been touched by gun violence. The federal provision ensures consistent access to courts and enables continuity of enforcement across state lines.
“Federal courts have long been bastions of due process—and the protections included in the federal ERPO provisions protect respondents’ due process rights. It is important to note that the duration of an order issued pursuant to an ex parte proceeding contemplated in this bill, during which a neutral federal judge must weigh whether a threat is imminent, is limited to 14 days, during which the court will determine, after a hearing including participation by the respondent, if a long-term order is appropriate.
“Taken together, the grant provisions in H.R. 1236, and the federal petition provisions incorporated from H.R. 3076 provide a sensible means by which an individual who exhibits dangerous behavior can be prevented from possessing or purchasing firearms. According to one study, over 50% of mass shooters exhibited some warning signs before the shooting. The combined bill before us authorizes an individuals who has serious concerns that someone they know poses an extreme risk to take the action needed to save lives and prevent suicides.
“Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have passed extreme risk protection laws, which have proven to be effective. In California, one study found that extreme risk protection orders were issued under that state’s law in 21 instances where there was concern of a mass casualty event. After Connecticut enacted an Extreme Risk Protection Order law the state experienced a 14% reduction in its firearm suicide rate. In Indiana, the number of suicides declined 7.5% in the ten years after it enacted its Extreme Risk Protection Order law.
“The bottom line is that we know that Extreme Risk laws save lives. We have witnessed their effectiveness in state after state. So, let us continue to take the reasonable and measured steps that the American people demand. This week, it was reported that nearly 90% of Americans support Extreme Risk Protection laws.
“Today, this Committee has the opportunity to build on measures that the House has already passed, including H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which also enjoys similar overwhelming support. I thank Representatives Carbajal and McBath for championing this effort and introducing the critical provisions that constitute this important bill, and I urge all of my colleagues to support H.R. 1236.”