Extreme Risk laws create a crucial tool to intervene when a person is exhibiting warning signs that they are experiencing a crisis and pose a risk to themself or others if they have access to guns. These laws – sometimes referred to as “red flag” laws – empower family members, law enforcement officers, and other designated community members to seek a civil court order that temporarily prevents someone in crisis from having access to guns. While these laws are relatively new, a growing body of research demonstrates that they are an effective approach to preventing gun violence, particularly with respect to gun-related suicide. 

However, the full lifesaving impact of Extreme Risk laws cannot be realized without leadership at the state and local level to ensure their effective implementation. Extreme risk laws create a new civil legal process that requires coordination among a wide variety of stakeholders in order to function effectively. There is also a substantial need for training and public education about the law as well as a process for collecting and evaluating data about how the law is being used.

In May 2023, the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund and the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions co-authored a report entitled “Promising Approaches for Implementing Extreme Risk Laws: A Guide for Practitioners and Policymakers,” which offers a new set of recommendations on how to effectively implement Extreme Risk laws. The recommendations were informed by discussions from representatives across the country where these laws are being implemented, including researchers, advocates, law enforcement, clinicians, and other organizations. 

The report includes the following key recommendations for effective implementation of these laws:

  • Establish a statewide working group. This group should be responsible for coordinating and supporting implementation efforts across the state, developing best practices, troubleshooting problems, and identifying funding needs. The working group should include representatives from state and local law enforcement agencies, court officials, state and local departments of health, service providers (particularly those focused on mental and behavioral health, domestic violence, suicide prevention, and community violence prevention), legal services organizations and researchers. 
  • Implement a statewide training curriculum for key stakeholders. One of the most immediate needs when an Extreme Risk law is enacted is increasing awareness about the law among the agencies and professionals who will be responsible for implementing and using the law (such as law enforcement, prosecutors, court personnel and judges) as well as those who regularly work with people who may be at risk of harm to self or others (such as clinicians, crisis response professionals, and domestic violence service providers). State leaders should engage subject-matter experts to create specialized training materials for each of these stakeholder groups about the law. 
  • Create materials and processes to support civilian petitioners. While the majority of Extreme Risk petitions are filed by law enforcement, most states also allow concerned family members and certain other individuals to file petitions directly with the court. Courts should provide instructions and easily digestible court forms to help individuals navigate the process. State and local leaders should also consider other options for supporting family members and other non-law enforcement entities in using this law, such as creating a hotline for individuals to ask questions about the process and designating Extreme Risk law specialists in courts and law enforcement agencies who are available to help people navigate through the process. 
  • Launch a public awareness campaign. States should consider a variety of means of educating the public about the Extreme Risk law, including the circumstances in which it may be appropriate to file a petition, how to navigate the process, and options for connecting with services to help address the underlying causes of an individual’s crisis. The resources on the One Thing You Can Do website are available to be used for public education efforts – please contact us if you want more information about how to bring these resources to your community. 
  • Establish a data collection and evaluation protocol. States should develop a comprehensive plan for collecting and evaluating data on Extreme Risk cases to ensure that the law is being implemented and used equitably across the state and in ways that maximize public safety impacts. Regularly evaluating use of the law will help identify best practices that can be shared across the state and country, monitor for any disparate impacts on historically marginalized communities, and enable study of the impact of Extreme Risk laws on gun violence outcomes.

Enacting an Extreme Risk law is just the beginning of the work to provide communities with a vital tool to intervene when there are warning signs that a person is in crisis and poses a risk of harm to themself or others if they have access to guns. State and local leaders must invest time and resources into the implementation of these laws to ensure that every community across the state has meaningful access to this lifesaving process. Please contact us if you have questions or are interested in connecting with an expert from our implementation team. 

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