What are ERPOs?
In 2014, a deadly shooting on the University of California, Santa Barbara campus left six people dead and another 14 people injured. The shooter, who also took his own life that day, exhibited disturbing behavior leading up to the event. In response, California became the first state to enact what we now call Extreme Risk laws.
Extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs) – often known as “red flag laws” – empower families and law enforcement to prevent gun tragedies by temporarily reducing access to guns by individuals at an elevated risk of endangering themselves or others. In November 2016, Washington voters overwhelmingly approved Extreme Risk Protection Orders through ballot Initiative 1491.
In the wake of Parkland, interest in extreme risk laws has increased dramatically. Today, 13 states have some form of ERPOs and dozens more have introduced legislation.
How do they work?
Extreme Risk Protection Orders are modeled on our well-established systems of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Protection Orders with careful protections for due process and standards for evidence. After a family member files a petition, the court holds a hearing and determines whether the person poses a serious threat of violence to themselves or others. The judge can issue an order restricting access to firearms for up to one year and can also refer the person in crisis for evaluation to ensure they get the help they need. Once a petition is filed, the court notifies the subject and a hearing is held. If the evidence of a threat is upheld by a judge, the order is put in place for one year and can be renewed annually should circumstances warrant. The subject may request one hearing a year to rescind the order. Violation of the order carries a criminal penalty.
What kind of tragedies can they prevent?
Mass Shootings and Other Homicide: People who may be at high-risk of dangerous behaviors may have access to firearms. Extreme risk orders allow for family and concerned law enforcement to take action and prevent tragedy. Through the same mechanism, worried parents, guardians, and siblings may take action through extreme risk laws to prevent school shootings.
Intimate Partner Shootings: Not all domestic violence restraining orders (DVROs) prohibit firearm purchase and possession or require removal of firearms already in the possession of an abuser. Additionally, persons in dating or sexual relationships who do not cohabitate and do not share a child in common may not be eligible for a DVRO. Extreme risk orders may supplement protections provided by DVROs or may be used by individuals who are not eligible to petition for a DVRO. Persons in abusive relationships should seek assistance from an advocate to determine the best course of action.
Suicide: By reducing firearms access, an extreme risk order can create a safer opportunity for the subject of an order to seek treatment and additional resources to address the root causes of their crisis. In Connecticut, nearly one-third of respondents received critical mental health and substance abuse treatment as a result of the extreme risk law intervention.