On Tuesday, N.C. House Democrats filed a bill which would allow for “extreme risk protection orders” to restrict someone’s access to guns if there is evidence they are a danger to themselves or others.
Under the bill – titled “Allow ERPOs to Save Lives & Prevent Suicides” – judges could issue the protection orders in a manner similar to domestic violence restraining orders. A partner, family member or law enforcement officer with first-hand knowledge of a potential danger could petition a district judge for the order.
If granted, law enforcement would be ordered to temporarily remove any firearms and schedule a hearing within 10 business days to determine the nature of the danger, if the weapons should be returned and whether the person needs treatment.
The idea has yet to gain traction in North Carolina – a similar bill was filed last year but failed to get a hearing. But similar laws have passed in 14 states and Washington D.C.
There are lessons to be gleaned from implementation elsewhere.
A Duke University study examined 14 years of the use of such a law in Connecticut. A study published in the journal Psychiatric Services examined data from both Connecticut and Indiana.
The studies found:
* Suicide risk was the number one driver of removal of guns in both states, as it now is is in every state where such laws exist.
* Middle aged men were by far the largest demographic to which the orders were applied – 92 percent in the Duke study. The average age was 47 years.
* There was a step-up in usage of the laws following the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech.
* Following that increased usage, gun suicides did drop in both states – 7.5 percent in Indiana and 13.7 percent in Connecticut. But over a number of years, non-gun suicides in Connecticut went up enough to essentially erase the drop.
The Duke University study concluded the laws seemed, on balance, to save lives :
Laws that authorize police to remove guns from persons at risk of violence or suicide appear to be a logical and complementary approach to background checks in preventing gun violence.
This study advances the field of gun violence prevention also by providing new information regarding the challenges to implementation of removal laws in one state. Potential changes to the law could streamline the gun-removal process and make it easier for police to take preventive action when appropriate. One such change, which was suggested by an expert respondent interviewed for this study, would be to allow police to remove guns immediately with probable cause; this would be similar to current practice in domestic violence situations where a gun surrender requirement is triggered by an ex parte temporary order of protection.
This study suggests that risk-based gun removal laws, even as currently implemented in Connecticut, can be at least modestly effective in preventing suicide. Expanded police training in the features of such a law and police protocols for safely removing guns from persons at risk of harm to self or others might further enhance the law’s utility and public safety benefit.
Millions of Americans every year undergo a personal background check to purchase a firearm, and over ninety-eight percent of them are approved. Some small proportion of those legal gun buyers will later experience a period in their lives when they pose a serious, knowable risk of interpersonal violence or suicidality—engaging in threatening or dangerous behavior104 apparent to those around them—yet will not be legally or practically prohibited from accessing guns. The evidence presented in this article suggests that enacting and implementing laws like Connecticut’s civil risk warrant statute in other states could significantly mitigate the risk posed by that small proportion of legal gun owners who, at times, may pose a significant danger to themselves or others. Such laws could thus save many lives and prove to be an important piece in the complex puzzle of gun violence prevention in the United States.