Extreme Risk laws provide law enforcement, and in some cases, family members and certain professionals, with a tool to intervene when a person is posing a threat of harm to themselves or others. These laws allow courts to issue orders that temporarily remove firearms from a dangerous situation and ensure that the person in crisis cannot buy a firearm for the duration of the order. The intention of these laws is to prevent tragedies before they occur, and research shows they are saving lives.

People in crisis often display clear warning signs, which are usually first noticed by household members. This is especially true for gun suicides and mass shootings. Having a firearm in the home triples the risk of death by suicide, affecting everyone in the household, not just the gun owner. Firearms are the most lethal means of suicide, but most people who survive a suicide attempt do not go on to die by suicide. This highlights the importance of temporarily limiting access to firearms from individuals showing suicidal thoughts and behaviors to save lives. 

In the case of mass shootings, both data and numerous tragedies reveal that these incidents are often preceded by warning signs. An analysis by Everytown for Gun Safety of mass shootings in which four or more people were killed from 2015 to 2022 found that in nearly one-third of the cases, the shooter exhibited dangerous warning signs beforehand. This trend is even more pronounced for incidents of school violence. According to a report by the United States Secret Service, every incident of targeted school violence from 2008 to 2017 involved a perpetrator who displayed concerning behaviors. In 77 percent of these incidents, at least one person, usually a peer, knew about the person’s plan. 

While Extreme Risk laws are relatively recent, research on their impact on gun violence is growing. Connecticut, which has the oldest Extreme Risk law, saw a 14 percent drop in its firearm suicide rate after the law was more strictly enforced. Indiana experienced a 7.5 percent reduction in firearm suicides in the decade following the enactment of its Extreme Risk law. Other studies have captured these laws’ impact in a different way—one suicide was prevented for every 11 guns removed in Connecticut and for every 10 guns removed in Indiana. In California, researchers studied nearly two dozen cases involving threats of mass shootings where an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) was used, and not a single case resulted in any subsequent violence. Another study across six states found that 10 percent of all ERPO petitions involved threats against three or more people, with K–12 schools being the most common targets. 

From 1999 to 2022, nearly 35,000 ERPO petitions have been filed across the states with these laws. While the use of ERPOs has been increasing, there are significant differences in how frequently they are used both between and within states. Connecticut, Florida, New York, and Maryland use ERPOs frequently, having filed thousands of petitions over the years. In contrast, states like Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, and New Mexico rarely use the law. This variation is also seen within states, with some counties using ERPOs extensively while others do not use them at all. 

Detailed data on ERPOs is not consistently available from all states, making it challenging to get a comprehensive picture of who files these petitions, how often they are granted, and who the subjects are. However, studies from California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington provide some insights. In these states, most ERPO petitions are filed by law enforcement, with fewer filed by family members or intimate partners. The data also show that the majority of individuals subject to ERPOs are white males in their early 40s. 

The research is clear: Extreme Risk laws allow family members and law enforcement to intervene in emergencies and prevent gun violence before it occurs. However, the data also indicate that more needs to be done to maximize the use of this life-saving tool. Despite the increase in ERPO usage, many states, counties, and jurisdictions are not utilizing this tool to its full potential. State and local agencies and leaders must invest time and resources to develop policies and procedures, train key stakeholders, and coordinate efforts effectively. Additionally, the low number of petitions filed by family members suggests a lack of public awareness about these laws. Studies from California, Washington, and Maryland have found that, while there is a lack of awareness about ERPOs among the public, clinicians, and social workers, people tend to support them once they are informed. States should consider ways to educate the public, using resources like those on the One Thing You Can Do website for their awareness campaigns.

For more information or to connect with an expert from our implementation team, please contact us

 

Written by Ruhi Bengali, Senior Advisor, Implementation, Everytown for Gun Safety.

Share on Facebook Share on X

The Latest