By State Representative, Leon D. Young
Recent years have seen several mass shootings in which family members or friends noticed warning signs that shooters were dangerous and at risk of harming themselves or others. In response to these tragedies, states have begun enacting lifesaving tools that can prevent gun tragedies before they occur. Extreme risk protection order (ERPO) laws empower families, household members, or law enforcement officers to temporarily remove a person’s access to firearms before they commit violence.
Extreme risk protection order (ERPO) laws allow families, household members, or law enforcement officers to petition a court directly for an order temporarily restricting a person’s access to guns. This vital tool saves lives by allowing the people who are most likely to notice when a loved one or community member becomes a danger to take concrete steps to disarm them.
In California, where an ERPO law has been in effect the longest, it has been used to disarm domestic abusers, individuals on the FBI’s terror watchlist, and suicidal family members. On April 12, the day after Vermont enacted this lifesaving policy, and two months after the Parkland massacre, Vermont law enforcement obtained an ERPO against an 18-year old who had planned a mass shooting at a high school. The would-be murderer kept a diary called “Journal of an Active Shooter,” in which he detailed his plans to cause more casualties than any previous school shooting.
Extreme risk protection orders are designed to keep guns away from people who are at a high risk of committing violence temporarily. Accordingly, these laws are often referred to as “risk-based removal” laws. To determine a person’s level of risk, states often require or authorize courts to consider certain types of evidence that research has demonstrated indicates a person is at an elevated risk of committing violence. For example, in California, when filing a petition for an order, the court must consider the following evidence:
• Threats or acts of violence by the respondent towards self or another within the past six months.
• A violation of a domestic violence emergency protective order that is in effect at the time the court is considering the petition.
• A violation of an unexpired domestic violence protective order within the past six months.
• Any conviction for any crime that prohibits purchase and possession of firearms (Even if a person is prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms due to a criminal conviction, an ERPO may be necessary to require the individual to relinquish his or her firearms. Read more about disarming dangerous people in our report, Keeping Illegal Guns Out of Dangerous Hands).
• A pattern of violent acts or threats within the past 12 months.
To date, a small number of states (California, Washington, Oregon, Indiana, Connecticut and now Florida) have statutes that can be used to temporarily take guns away from people a judge deems a threat to themselves or others. Lawmakers in 17 other states—including Wisconsin—plus the District of Columbia have proposed similar measures.
In any case, it’s now time for Wisconsin to join the ranks of progressive states who understand the importance of enacting ERPO legislation. Clearly, this legislative approach has great merit and has the potential to be a vital lifesaving tool that can prevent gun tragedies before they occur.