NEW ANALYSIS: Giffords Law Center Research Proves How Broward County, Florida, Effectively Used an Extreme Risk Law to Stop Potential Gun Violence Tragedies
“Preventing the Next Parkland,” released ahead of the anniversary of the shooting, describes how local law enforcement used this law to intervene before crises became tragedies
Findings from first year of law’s implementation make clear the tool should be available to family members and law enforcement in every state
February 10, 2020 — Days before the second anniversary of the Parkland shooting, Giffords Law Center published a first-of-its-kind analysis that details how Florida’s extreme risk law was used to prevent gun violence in Broward County, the site of the deadly 2018 massacre. The report, Preventing the Next Parkland: A Case Study of the Use and Implementation of Florida’s Extreme Risk Law in Broward County , demonstrates the lifesaving potential of extreme risk laws. Already signed into law by Democrats and Republicans in 17 states plus the District of Columbia, our new research demonstrates why this trend cannot stop until every state has an extreme risk law. It also lays out recommendations to help support legislators and other key stakeholders in passing and effectively implementing extreme risk laws in their states.
“Our research shows extreme risk laws are a critical tool for stopping future Parklands, gun suicides, and other gun violence tragedies,” said Kelly Drane, Research Manager at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “In the span of just one year, Broward County law enforcement officials used this law to intervene before violence occurred and remove firearms from more than 200 individuals in crisis. Later this week, the Parkland community will grapple with the anniversary of an unimaginable tragedy. As everyone in our country reflects on what this day means, we must remember that when states enact and effectively implement stronger gun laws, we can save lives.”
After the Parkland shooting on February 14, 2018, the investigation into the shooter revealed a number of instances of dangerous and concerning behavior. The circumstances surrounding this case spurred the Florida state legislature to move quickly in passing an extreme risk law. It was a remarkable move for a state often referred to as the “gunshine state” because it historically has had some of the weakest gun safety laws in the country. Enacting this gun safety law helped Florida raise its grade from an F to a C- in Giffords Law Center’s Annual Gun Law Scorecard .
Extreme risk laws are a proven way for law enforcement to take action, without resorting to the criminal justice system, before gun tragedies like mass shootings and suicide occur. Under Florida’s extreme risk law, law enforcement can petition courts for extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs), referred to in Florida as risk protection orders.
To understand how Broward County used the state’s extreme risk law, Giffords Law Center leveraged Florida’s strong public records law to obtain and review case files for every ERPO sought or obtained during the first year the law was in effect. The analysis found that time after time, Broward County law enforcement used the state’s extreme risk law to quickly and safely disarm individuals who made serious, credible threats of violence against themselves, family members, and public places.
The case study’s findings
In the first year after the law went into effect, law enforcement filed 255 unique petitions for ERPOs in Broward County. Many of the individuals subject to these orders threatened multiple, overlapping forms of serious violence. More than half the cases (55%) involved a respondent threatening homicides, and 48% of cases involved threats of suicide. Almost one in five cases involved a respondent threatening to attack a public place.
Florida’s extreme risk law was used to remove firearm access from, among others:
- A man who threatened to shoot or strangle his neighbor over an argument
- A man who threatened to commit a school shooting
- A teenager struggling with depression who told officers he wanted to shoot himself with his father’s gun
- A woman experiencing delusions who unintentionally shot herself
In the vast majority of cases (87%), final orders were granted. In total, 412 firearms were seized or surrendered using ERPOs in Broward County in the first year of the law’s existence.
Rapid rise of extreme risk laws
As of January 2020, seventeen states and Washington DC have some version of an extreme risk law, meaning that nearly 50% of Americans live in states protected by these laws. An overwhelming majority of Americans support extreme risk laws, with public support for these laws increasing in recent years. A 2019 survey found that 76% of Americans support a policy that would authorize law enforcement officers to temporarily remove guns from people who pose an immediate threat to themselves or others. Four in five Americans support a policy that would allow family members to ask a court to temporarily remove guns from a relative in this same circumstance.
Giffords Law Center’s detailed case-by-case analysis provides a granular understanding of how extreme risk laws serve as a much-needed tool to help intervene before violence escalates, and compelling evidence that we hope will help support more states in passing—and effectively implementing—their own extreme risk laws.