NAMI Provides Testimony to Senate Judiciary Committee on Extreme Risk Protection Orders

March 26th, 2019

Earlier today, Ron Honberg, Senior Policy Advisor, testified on behalf of NAMI in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs). The Committee held the hearing to consider guidelines for state action on ERPOs, also known as Gun Violence Restraining Orders.

ERPOs establish procedures to prohibit individuals who pose risks of violence to self or others from possessing firearms for a defined period. Currently, 14 states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) plus the District of Columbia have laws authorizing these orders.

NAMI believes that ERPOs can be lifesaving when they appropriately implemented. However, NAMI urged the committee that the criteria for issuing an ERPO should be based on specific, real-time behaviors and evidence-based risk factors for violence rather than targeting or singling out people with mental illness.

Ron testified, “An individual’s history of mental illness or specific diagnosis is not a good predictor for violence.” He noted that while some symptoms of severe mental illness, such as delusions and paranoia, are a risk factor, overall, only 4% of violent acts in the U.S. are attributable to mental illness.

“It is therefore neither necessary or appropriate to specifically identify mental illness as a risk factor in state or federal ERPO laws.”

NAMI also reminded the Committee that people with mental illness are more often victims of violence than perpetrators. Tragically, the greatest threat of gun violence is suicide—which accounts for 60% of gun deaths in the U.S. each year.

NAMI has six recommendations to maximize the positive impact of ERPOs and to prevent unintended consequences:

  1. Determinations of risk should be based on an individualized assessment and grounded in evidence.
  2. Any person subject to an ERPO petition should be afforded due process protections.
  3. Law enforcement officers responsible for removing firearms from individuals under an ERPO should receive training on crisis de-escalation and crisis intervention.
  4. Stigmatizing language should not be used in writing or describing these laws.
  5. Health professionals should also have the ability to initiate petitions for ERPOs.
  6. Key stakeholders, including law enforcement, families, health professionals and others, should be educated about these laws and how to utilize them.

NAMI Efforts to Improve Veterans’ Mental Health Care

On March 13, NAMI was thrilled by the introduction of S. 785, The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, by Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS). NAMI worked with a bipartisan group of legislators on key parts of the bill, including provisions to:

  • Provide veterans with a full year of VA health and mental health care after transitioning from the Armed Forces
  • Increase access to online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Create a Precision Medicine for Veterans Initiative to identify brain and mental health biomarkers
  • Provide $10 million to increase availability of and locations for VA telehealth care

This bill celebrates the legacy of retired Navy SEAL Commander John Scott Hannon, a member of NAMI Montana, who died by suicide last year after fighting a courageous battle with post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and bipolar disorder.