March 25, 2019

When a person is in crisis and considering harming themselves or others, family members and law enforcement are often the first people to see the warning signs. Extreme Risk laws, sometimes referred to as “Red Flag” laws, empower those who recognize these warning signs to intervene in order to temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing firearms. These laws can help de-escalate emergency situations and are a proven way to intervene before gun violence such as a firearm suicide or mass shooting takes more American lives. States around the country are turning to Extreme Risk laws as a common-sense way to help reduce gun violence.

 

INTRODUCTION

In many instances of gun violence, there were clear warning signs that the shooter posed a serious threat before the shooting. Extreme Risk laws give family members and law enforcement a way to intervene before warning signs escalate into tragedies. These laws permit immediate family members and law enforcement to petition a court for an order, often known as an extreme risk protection order (ERPO),These orders are sometimes also known as gun violence restraining orders (GVROs). to temporarily remove guns from dangerous situations. If a court finds that a person poses a serious risk of injuring themselves or others with a firearm, that person is temporarily prohibited from purchasing and possessing guns, and any guns they already own are held by law enforcement or another authorized party while the order is in effect.

 

Seventeen states and DC have enacted Extreme Risk laws.Cal. Penal Code § 18125; Cal. Penal Code § 18150; Cal. Penal Code § 18175; CO HB 1177 (2019); Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-38c; 10 Del. C. 7701, et seq.; 2018 D.C. Act 22-629; Fla. Stat. § 790.401; 430 ILCS 67/1, et seq.; HI SB 1466 (2019); Ind. Code § 35-47-14-1; Ind. Code § 35-47-14-2; Ind. Code § 35-47-14-5; Ind. Code § 35-47-14-6; Ind. Code § 35-47-14-8; Md Public Safety Code 5-601, et seq; Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 121; Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 129B(C); Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131(C); Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §131R-Z; Nev. AB 291 (2019); NY SB 2451 (2019); NJ A 1217 (2018); ORS 166.525, et seq.; 13 VSA 4051, et seq.; RI Gen Laws 8-8.3-1, et seq.; Wash. Rev. Code § 7.94.030; Wash. Rev. Code § 7.94.040; Wash. Rev. Code § 7.94.050; Wash. Rev. Code § 7.94.080.
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, DC, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Under current federal law, a person is barred from having guns only if they fall into one of several categories of prohibited persons – such as those who have been convicted of certain crimes, adjudicated as mentally ill or involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital, or who are subject to a final domestic violence restraining order.18 U.S.C. § 922(d), (g). A person who displays warning signs that they’re considering suicide or other acts of violence, but who does not fall into any of the above categories or is otherwise not prohibited under current law, would still be able to legally buy and possess guns. Extreme Risk laws help to fill this gap, protecting public safety and allowing people in crisis the chance to seek the help they need.

 

KEY FINDINGS

Temporarily removing guns from people in crisis can reduce the risk of firearm suicide.

Firearm suicide is a significant public health crisis in the US.For more information on firearm suicide, see: https://everytownresearch.org/reports/disrupting-access/. Every year, over 22,000 Americans die by firearm suicide, including over 1,000 children and teens.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Fatal Injury Reports. A yearly average was developed using five years of most recent available data: 2013 to 2017. Children and teens are defined as ages 0 to 19. Nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths in the US are suicides, an average of 61 deaths a day.Ibid. Firearm suicide to total suicide ratio and daily average developed using five years of most recent available data: 2013 to 2017.

A meta-analysis of 14 scientific studies revealed that having access to a firearm triples one’s risk of death by suicide. This elevated risk applies not only to the gun owner but also to everyone in the household.Anglemyer A, Horvath T, Rutherford G. The accessibility of firearms and risk for suicide and homicide victimization among household members: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2014; 160: 101–110.

Among commonly used methods of self-harm, firearms are by far the most lethal, with a fatality rate of approximately 85 percent.Miller M, Azrael D, Barber C. Suicide mortality in the United States: the importance of attending to method in understanding population-level disparities in the burden of suicide. Annual Review of Public Health. 2012; 33: 393-408. Conversely, less than 5 percent of people who attempt suicide using other methods die,Ibid. and the vast majority of all those who survive do not go on to die by suicide.Owens D, Horrocks J, House A. Fatal and non-fatal repetition of self-harm: systematic review. British Journal of Psychiatry. 2002; 181: 193-199. While firearms are used in less than 6 percent of suicide attempts, over half of suicide deaths are with firearms.Miller M, Azrael D, Barber C. Suicide mortality in the United States: the importance of attending to method in understanding population-level disparities in the burden of suicide. Annual Review of Public Health. 2012; 33: 393-408.

Following Connecticut’s increased enforcement of its Extreme Risk law,Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-38c. one study found the law to be associated with a 14 percent reduction in the state’s firearm suicide rate.Kivisto AJ, Phalen PL. Effects of risk-based firearm seizure laws in Connecticut and Indiana on suicide rates, 1981-2015. Psychiatric Services. 2018; 69(8): 855-862. Another study in Connecticut found that one suicide was averted for approximately every 11 gun removals carried out under the law.Swanson JW, Norko M, Lin H, et al. Implementation and effectiveness of Connecticut’s risk-based gun removal law: Does it prevent suicides? Law and Contemporary Problems. 2017; 80: 179-208.

In Indiana, in the 10 years after the state passed its Extreme Risk law in 2005,Ind. Code § 35-47-14-1, et seq. the state’s firearm suicide rate decreased by 7.5 percent.Kivisto AJ, Phalen PL. Effects of risk-based firearm seizure laws in Connecticut and Indiana on suicide rates, 1981-2015. Psychiatric Services. 2018; 69(8): 855-862. Like Connecticut, another study estimated that Indiana’s Extreme Risk law averted one suicide for approximately every 10 gun removals.Swanson JW, Easter MM, Alanis Hirsch K, et al. Criminal justice and suicide outcomes with Indiana’s risk-based gun seizure law. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. 2019 Apr 15. pii: JAAPL.003835-19.

Perpetrators of mass shootings and school shootings often display warning signs before committing violent acts. Interventions in states with Extreme Risk laws have already prevented these potential tragedies.

An Everytown original analysis of mass shootings from 2009 to 2017 revealed that in 51 percent of incidents the shooter exhibited warning signs that they posed a risk to themselves or others before the shooting.Everytown for Gun Safety. Mass shootings in the United States: 2009-2017. https://every.tw/1XVAmcc. December 2018.  These warning signs are even more apparent among perpetrators of school violence.Everytown for Gun Safety. Keeping our schools safe: a plan to stop mass shootings and end gun violence in American schools. everytownresearch.org/reports/keeping-schools-safe. February 2019. The United States Secret Service and the United States Department of Education studied targeted school violence incidents and found behavioral warning signs that caused others to be concerned in 93 percent of cases. They also found that in 81 percent of incidents, other people, most often the shooter’s peers, had some type of knowledge about the shooter’s plans.United States Secret Service and United States Department of Education. Prior Knowledge of Potential School-based Violence: Information Students Learn May Prevent a Targeted Attack. https://bit.ly/2MPrOoL. May 2008.

In 51% of mass shootings, the shooter exhibited dangerous warning signs before the shooting.

For example, students and teachers reported that the mass shooter in the February 2018 Parkland, FL, tragedy displayed threatening behavior. His mother had contacted law enforcement on multiple occasions regarding his behavior, and he was known to possess firearms.Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. Initial Report Submitted to the Governor, Speaker of the House of Representatives and Senate President. http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/MSDHS/CommissionReport.pdf. January 2, 2019. In response to that tragedy, Florida passed its own Extreme Risk law.Fla. Stat. § 790.401.

Likewise, the shooter in the May 2014 Isla Vista, CA shooting displayed numerous warning signs, including homicidal and suicidal threats. His parents had alerted law enforcement, but he did not meet the criteria for emergency mental health commitment.Pickert K. Mental-health lessons emerge from Isla Vista slayings. Time. May 27, 2014. https://goo.gl/UL5jLX. As a result, he kept his guns, which he used in the killing spree three weeks later. In response to that tragic shooting, California passed its own Extreme Risk law.Cal. Penal Code § 18125; Cal. Penal Code § 18150; Cal. Penal Code § 18175.
In Maryland, a 2018 Extreme Risk law has been invoked in at least four cases involving “significant threats” against schools, according to the leaders of the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association.Broadwater L. Sheriff: Maryland's 'red flag' law prompted gun seizures after four 'significant threats' against schools. The Baltimore Sun. January 15, 2019. https://bit.ly/2Gdf6Qi.

In Florida, an Extreme Risk law passed in 2018 has been invoked in multiple cases of potential school violence, including in the case of a student who was accused of stalking an ex-girlfriend and threatening to kill himself,Kennedy E. Tate student's AR-15, father's 54 guns removed under new red flag law. Pensacola News Journal. July 9, 2018. https://bit.ly/2UHmaba. and in another in which a potential school shooter said killing people would be “addicting.”Lipscomb J. Florida's post-Parkland "Red Flag" law has taken guns from dozens of dangerous people. Miami New Times. August 7, 2018. https://bit.ly/2ORW56U.

In Seattle, a coalition of city and county officialsThe coalition included the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, Seattle Police Department, King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, and King County Sheriff’s Office. launched a regional firearms enforcement unit that supports, tracks, and enforces all firearm surrender orders issued within the county. In the unit’s first year, it recovered 200 firearms as a result of 48 ERPOs. According to the City Attorney’s Office, the use of ERPOs has been effective in temporarily preventing access to firearms by students who threatened violence against themselves, the school, and other students.12-month period from January 2018 to December 2018. Acquired via correspondence with Christopher Anderson, director of the Domestic Violence Unit of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office.

Extreme Risk laws have robust due-process protections.
Extreme Risk laws are designed to diffuse dangerous situations while also providing due process and a system of checks and balances. Those who request an ERPO must present evidence to a judge that demonstrates a person poses a significant danger of injuring themselves or others with a firearm. The person in question has the opportunity to respond to any evidence presented, and many of these laws include penalties for presenting false evidence. In a crisis situation where there is clear evidence someone poses and immediate risk, a judge can issue an emergency ERPO that would immediately suspend access to firearms until a full hearing is held, usually within 14 to 21 days. The final ERPO, generally lasting up to one year, can be issued only following a hearing of which the person is given notice and during which they have an opportunity to be heard and respond to evidence. Many of these laws also include strong provisions that deter people from misusing the ERPO process.

An overwhelming majority of Americans favor Extreme Risk laws. 

In a recent survey of 1,200 likely voters, 89 percent of respondents favored Congress passing an Extreme Risk law.

CONCLUSION

The emerging body of research shows that Extreme Risk laws work to prevent firearm suicide, and they can also help prevent would-be mass shooters from committing violence. An overwhelming majority of Americans on both sides of the aisle support Extreme Risk laws. In a recent survey, 89 percent of likely voters favored Congress passing an Extreme Risk law.Garin G and Molyneux G C Hart Research Associates. Guns and the 2018 Election, conducted on behalf of Everytown for Gun Safety. October 2018. https://everytown.org/documents/2018/10/guns-and-the-2018-election.pdf/.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24/7. 1-800-273-TALK (8255) suicidepreventionlifeline.org

You may also contact the Crisis Text Line, which provides trained crisis counseling services over text 24/7. Text HOME to 741741 for free from anywhere in the U.S. crisistextline.org

 

APPENDIX: EXTREME RISK STORIES

Click here to download the appendix of stories that illustrate the importance of Extreme Risk legislation in removing firearms from dangerous situations.