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Do Red Flag Laws Reduce Gun Violence?

September 19, 2019

Written by Thomas Davis

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Extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs) may be a useful legal strategy to prevent mass shootings.

Why does this matter?
Regardless of your interpretation of the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, gun violence is indisputably a public health issue. As emergency physicians, we take care of these victims on a daily basis. We therefore have a professional obligation not only to care for those patients but also to learn how we can prevent their disease. Extreme risk protection orders, colloquially referred to as “red flag” laws, have become an increasingly discussed method to potentially curb the incidence of mass shootings. ERPOs are legal orders that allow judges to authorize time-limited prohibition on possession and purchase of firearms and ammunition when there is concern that an individual may harm himself or others. Each state’s laws differ in terms of who can petition an order, its duration, and the renewal process. Some policy analysts have voiced concerns that some states have infringed upon the due process rights of the accused and that the federal government should encourage states to adopt best practices.

Spot a threat? Ergo file an ERPO.
This study is a case series evaluating the effectiveness of ERPOs in California. The authors searched court records and identified 414 ERPOs. Among those, 21 were issued in response to a threatened mass shooting. Seventeen subjects verbalized intent to commit a mass shooting whereas 4 ERPOs were issued based on suggestive behavior. Most subjects were white (13) and male (19). The average age was 35. The majority of petitions were filed by law enforcement (14) with the remainder being filed by family or household members. Fifty-two firearms were recovered with 26 being recovered in 1 case. A “temporary order” is issued without a hearing and lasts for up to 3 weeks. Among the 21 subjects accused, 15 ended up having a hearing. A “final order” (lasts one year) was issued in 14 of those 15 hearings. Thankfully, no mass shootings occurred. A huge limitation to this study is that it is impossible to know if violence would have occurred had an ERPO not been issued.

Extreme Risk Protection Orders Intended to Prevent Mass Shootings: A Case Series. Ann Intern Med. 2019 Aug 20. doi: 10.7326/M19-2162. [Epub ahead of print]

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