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What You Need To Know about Extreme Risk Protection Orders


The Indianapolis mass shooting highlights the importance of using extreme risk laws

The 19-year-old gunman who murdered eight FedEx employees in Indianapolis had previously had a shotgun seized by law enforcement.

The gunman’s mother had warned authorities that her son might attempt suicide by cop. Yet after this shotgun was seized, the perpetrator went on to purchase two semiautomatic rifles, which he used in last week’s massacre. This should never have happened. 

Who Can Have Gun 

Extreme Risk Protection Orders

Extreme risk protection orders provide a proactive way to temporarily restrict a person showing clear warning signs of violence from accessing firearms. 

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia empower law enforcement and sometimes key members of the community to temporarily suspend a person’s access to firearms through an emergency risk protection order (ERPO). Indiana was one of the first states to enact a version of an extreme risk law, in 2005. Following the massacre in Parkland, Florida in 2018, a number of states enacted or strengthened their ERPO laws, including Indiana. 

In 2019, the state significantly strengthened its law to not only allow law enforcement to seize a firearm from a person believed to be dangerous, but also temporarily prohibit them from future gun purchases. Yet proper implementation and awareness of the updated law appears to be lacking. The state has also failed to close the dangerous private sale loophole in the federal background checks system, making it easy for people at high risk of violence to acquire firearms. Stronger gun safety laws and more thorough implementation of existing laws could have prevented this shooting.

President Biden’s administration is working to expand this crucial policy to states across the nation. Earlier this month, President Biden announced a series of executive actions aimed at ending the nation’s gun violence epidemic—including the release of a model extreme risk law by the Department of Justice. Every state should enact an extreme risk law based on their existing scheme of laws, and Congress should pass legislation incentivizing states to pass these laws through a grant program.  

What Are ERPOs?

364
Mass shootings per year
On average, one mass shooting—defined as an event in which four or more people are killed or injured with a firearm—happens every day in the United States.

Source

“Mass Shootings,” Gun Violence Archive, https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/mass-shooting. Calculations were based on the five most recent years of available data (2014-2018).

When it comes to preventing gun violence, there are often warning signs hidden in plain sight. An FBI study of the pre-attack behaviors of active shooters found that the average shooter displayed four to five observable and concerning behaviors over time, often related to the shooter’s problematic interpersonal interactions or other signs of violent intentions. Additionally, up to 80% of people considering suicide by firearm exhibit some sign of their intentions.

Extreme risk protection orders fill a critical gap in federal violence prevention policy by enabling law enforcement and other key members of the community who witness potentially dangerous behavior to channel their concern into legal action before gun tragedies occur.

How ERPOs Work

In our report Preventing the Next Parkland: A Case Study of the Use and Implementation of Florida’s Extreme Risk Law in Broward County, we outline how an ERPO moves from a court petition to a protective order while protecting due process. While the below process is specific to Florida, the steps involved for many other states are similar. 

  1. Law enforcement files a petition presenting evidence that a respondent poses an immediate risk to themselves or others by having access to a firearm.
  2. A judge determines whether there is reasonable cause to believe that the respondent poses a significant danger in the near future. If so, the judge issues a temporary order, known as an ex parte order. 
  3. If an ex parte order is granted, the respondent is required to surrender any firearms, ammunition, or concealed carry permits.
  4. Before the ex parte order expires, the court sets a hearing to address the claim of risk, during which the respondent may contest the order
  5. If the judge finds clear and convincing evidence that the respondent poses a significant danger to themselves or others, the court grants an order which prohibits the respondent from purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm or ammunition for up to one year. 

How ERPOs Can Save Lives 

ERPO legislation at the state level has enabled households and law enforcement to proactively protect their communities from gun violence. In the year following its passage, Florida’s extreme risk law enabled law enforcement to file 255 unique petitions in Broward County, resulting in the removal of 412 firearms from at-risk individuals, Almost one in five of these cases involved an individual threatening to attack a public place, including a man who told his co-worker that he was thinking about shooting up a school.

Research from UC Davis also highlights the power of California’s extreme risk laws as a proactive gun safety measure. Gun violence restraining orders were used to intervene in more than 1000 cases of threatened violence or harm in California from 2016 to 2019. In San Diego, these orders helped law enforcement recover weapons from a man with dementia who threatened to shoot his wife and neighbor, as well as a semiautomatic rifle from a man who planned to carry his gun to work after expressing admiration for a mass shooter.

Extreme risk laws save lives

For every 10 to 20 guns removed under Connecticut’s and Indiana’s extreme risk laws, approximately one life was saved through an averted suicide.

Source

Jeffrey W. Swanson, et al., “Implementation and Effectiveness of Connecticut’s Risk–based Gun Removal Law: Does it Prevent Suicides,” Law & Contemporary Problems 80, (2017): 179–208; Jeffrey W. Swanson, et al., “Criminal Justice and Suicide Outcomes with Indiana’s Risk-Based Gun Seizure Law,” The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, (2019).

Additionally, research demonstrates that ERPOs can help reduce gun suicides. For every 10 to 20 firearm removals under Connecticut’s and Indiana’s extreme risk laws, approximately one life was saved through an averted suicide. As a result, Connecticut’s and Indiana’s extreme risk laws have been associated with 14% and 7.5% reductions in firearm suicide rates in these states, respectively.

Although Biden’s executive order to create model extreme risk legislation will establish a powerful benchmark for effective ERPO policy, it is up to state legislatures to pass the lifesaving policy into law. The Extreme Risk Protection Order Act of 2019, as introduced by Rep. Salud Carbajal and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, is an example of a policy that would empower the use of EPROs. If reintroduced, the legislation would create a grant program to help states implement and raise awareness of the petition process. 

As research continues to underscore the value of ERPOs, states must follow the lead of Florida and California and invest in a proactive solution to gun violence.

Thanks to Giffords Communications Intern Molly Kozlowski for her contributions to this post.

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