To curb Pa. gun crime, panel recommends focusing on past violence more than mental illness

    Since the 2012 shootings in Aurora, Colorado, a lot of attention has been paid to preventing people with mental illness from accessing guns.

    But Josh Horwitz, Executive Director of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence says while some murders are committed by people suffering mental illness, research shows past violence is the best predictor of who is likely to open fire.


    “We were able to identify some of those other risk factors, prior acts of violence prior acts of domestic violence, alcohol abuse and come up with a risk based approach to reducing firearm violence,” said Horwitz.

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    Horwitz convened experts to talk about gun violence and mental health at Temple University.

    The panel recommends Pennsylvania judges be forced to restrict gun access for people when issuing a domestic violence restraining order. It’s an option, but not mandatory under existing state law. They also suggest those with repeat DWI convictions should not have access to firearms.

    The group also is promoting a “gun violence restraining order” as a preventive measure. Family members who recognize that a loved one is at risk of harming someone with a gun could request such an order.  It would be a civil action, so it would not create a criminal record.  Proponents say it could be a useful tool for dealing with someone who does not meet the criteria for immediate arrest or involuntary committment.

    Edward McCaan, Deputy Philadelphia District Attorney, says the proposed order would close a gap in current law.

    “Search warrants to remove things from the home can only be done in the context of a criminal case,” said McCaan. “This would be a way to remove firearms from a home where some family member felt that the person in the home were a danger to himself or to other people.”

    New state legislation would be needed to allow this kind of restraining order.

    While the group found that mental illness is not a strong predictor of interpersonal violence it is a big risk factor for self-harm. In Pennsylvania, suicide accounts for 60 percent of all firearm deaths.

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