Essentially they’re a temporary restraining order for guns. Called ERPOs, or Extreme Risk Protection Orders, these orders allow family members or law enforcement to remove guns from the possession of someone they believe poses a risk to themselves or others. The hope is that ERPOs can be the barrier between a dangerous person and murder or suicide, including in instances where domestic violence is present.
As it stands, women are 16 times more likely to be killed with guns in the U.S. than in other developed countries, and more than half of all women killed with guns are murdered by intimate partners or family members, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit advocating for gun reforms and that’s been instrumental in pushing ERPOs forward on a federal level. Notoriously, abusers are most likely to become lethal when a survivor leaves them. If ERPOs become an option in more states—currently, only Washington, California, Connecticut and Oregon have ERPO laws, but 19 other states have pending legislation—the hope is that the risk for domestic violence homicide can drop significantly.
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Standard protection orders do not always require the perpetrator to relinquish firearms. According to Sam Levy, counsel for Everytown, 30 states plus the District of Columbia prohibit firearm possession by people subject to domestic violence restraining orders (DVROs), though only 19 states and D.C. require abusers to turn in any guns in their possession.
“As a result, even though they are legally prohibited from possessing guns, without a relinquishment mechanism, prohibited abusers can still access guns they purchased before the DVRO was issued and use them to harm their victims and others,” says Levy. “It is therefore crucial that states have laws requiring relinquishment as part of their DVRO process.”
ERPOs Are Not a Cure-All
Despite its pros, Levy cautions that ERPOs are not going to magically erase the danger abusers with guns pose.
“ERPOs are not intended to be an alternative to domestic violence restraining orders or to address gaps in existing laws intended to protect survivors of domestic violence,” says Levy.
ERPOs do not restrict the gun owner to stay a certain distance away from individuals or refrain them from stalking or harassing someone. But what ERPO laws will do is limit the respondent’s access to firearms, lowering the fatality risk for both survivors and the general public.
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However, it should be noted that even when a protection order or ERPO is in place, survivors must still take abundant caution as neither prevents an abuser from illegally possessing a firearm. According to Everytown research, in 54 percent of the mass shootings that occurred between 2009 and 2016, the shooters were also abusers who killed intimate partners or family members along with others.
Warning Signs Shooters May Exhibit
Before most mass shootings or domestic violence homicides occur there are often warning signs that perpetrators have entered the danger zone. A survivor or support person of someone in a domestic violence situation should consider collecting evidence of abuse, in a way that’s safe to do so, to be used later in court to make one’s case for an ERPO.
Standards of proof for these warning signs vary by state. Levy says judges considering an ERPO focus solely on whether a person poses a danger to themselves or others by having access to firearms.
Among the most common types of proof that an ERPO is warranted include:
- Recent acts or threats of violence against others
- Recent threats of suicide or other self-harm
- Unlawful or reckless use or brandishing of firearms
- Abuse of drugs or alcohol
- Recent acquisition of firearms
- Existence and/or violation of prior restraining orders
- Convictions for domestic violence or stalking crimes
- Evidence of dangerous mental health issues
- Any other relevant evidence that demonstrates that the respondent poses a risk to self or others
Do They Work?
ERPOs have taken guns away from people displaying the warnings signs above and the results have, not surprisingly, been positive, says Levy.
“Research has shown that ERPOs can help save lives, especially in the suicide context. Connecticut’s red flag law was associated with a 13.7 percent decrease in firearm suicide. The law has averted an estimated one suicide for every 10 to 11 gun removal cases.”
What Everytown hopes next is that ERPOs will become federal law.
“The Federal Extreme Risk Protection Act is a top federal priority for Everytown. Eight states passed Red Flag laws in 2018 alone, and we hope to see this bipartisan bill move in the next Congress,” says Levy.”
Want to help make it a reality in your state? Contact your state representatives to urge this legislation be passed where you live.
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