Far too often, in the aftermath of incidents of gun violence we hear a familiar story: family members observed warning signs from a loved one that they knew was really struggling, or law enforcement officers had received calls about an individual’s concerning behavior. Compounding the devastation of these tragedies is the regret that these incidents may have been prevented had someone been able to intervene and temporarily prevent the individual from having access to firearms.  

Extreme Risk laws provide one opportunity to intervene when they observe warning signs, rather than waiting for a tragedy to occur. These laws – sometimes referred to as “red flag” laws – empower family members, law enforcement officers, or other designated community members to temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing firearms. 


How Exactly Does the Extreme Risk Process Work?

While specific details of each state’s law vary, Extreme Risk laws generally create a civil legal process through which family and household members, law enforcement, and other designated community members can request a court order that will temporarily restrict a person’s access to firearms. After a petition is filed with the court, a judge will evaluate the evidence provided by both sides and determine whether the person poses a serious risk of injuring themselves or others if they continue to have access to firearms. If a judge finds that there is sufficient evidence of such a risk, they will issue an extreme risk protection order, which will require the individual to temporarily surrender any guns they already own and will prevent them from being able to purchase any additional guns while the order is in effect.

Notably, an extreme risk protection order does not go on someone’s criminal record. Extreme risk protection orders are temporary and are part of a civil process distinct from arrests and prosecutions, mental health commitments, and other types of restraining orders. When the order expires or is terminated by the court, the individual will be able to possess and purchase firearms again as long as they are not prohibited from doing so for other reasons, such as a felony conviction or a prohibiting restraining order.


When could an extreme risk protection order be helpful?

An extreme risk protection order may be appropriate in situations where a person is expressing an intention to harm themself, where a person has made threats of harm to other people or places, or where there is evidence of domestic or family violence. Extreme risk orders have been effective in preventing various forms of gun violence – most notably gun suicides, but also workplace shootings, school shootings, and intimate partner gun violence. A person can petition for an extreme risk protection order by itself, or they can use it alongside other tools, like domestic violence restraining orders. 


Key Facts about Extreme Risk Laws

  • Courts will only issue extreme risk protection orders when there is evidence, based on a person’s behavior or history, that they pose a risk of harm to themselves or others if they have access to firearms.
  • Every state’s Extreme Risk law includes due process protections and requires a judicial finding of imminent risk of harm to self or others before an order can be issued.
  • Extreme risk protection orders can only be sought by family members, law enforcement, and other limited individuals designated in the statute and there are often specific penalties for filing a false petition.
  • An extreme risk protection order is a temporary intervention that does not permanently impact a person’s right to possess guns.


Chelsea Parsons is the Director of Implementation at Everytown and works with government and community stakeholders to ensure effective implementation of extreme risk laws. If you are interested in connecting with our implementation team, please contact us

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