Extreme Risk Protection Orders

Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs), also known as Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GVROs), or “Red Flag Laws, empower families and law enforcement to prevent gun tragedies by allowing them to petition a court to temporarily remove guns from individuals at an elevated risk of endangering themselves or others.

They are modeled on well-established systems of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Protection Orders with careful considerations for due process and standards of evidence. ERPOs allow immediate family members or members of law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms from a person who they believe to be an imminent risk to themselves or others. The petition is a sworn affidavit. Filing a petition knowing the information in it is false or was filed with the intention to harass the respondent is a prosecutable offense. The judge will review the petition and consider the petitioners concerns before making a determination. The respondent will also have an opportunity to petition for termination of the order.

ERPOs are civil actions, not criminal. Once the order expires, the respondent will once again be legally allowed to possess firearms. An ERPO in no way permanently prohibits a person from legal purchase or ownership of firearms, unlike an adjudication of mental illness by a court, or an involuntary committal. 

These laws are one of the single most important ways that family members and law enforcement can prevent a tragedy, be it a firearm suicide, a homicide, or mass shooting. 

What Extreme Risk Protection Orders don’t do
They do not allow family members to take away someone’s guns without filing a petition in court and appearing before a judge. The petitioner must provide specific reasons to the judge why they believe the person might harm themselves or others. The judge will make the final determination of whether or not the firearms should be temporarily removed.

They do not allow family members to make false claims in an attempt to take away someone’s guns. Anyone found to be have made a false claim will be subject to perjury charges.

Families Know First
While mental illness is not a predictor of violence, there are certain behaviors that can indicate a person  is more likely to commit a violent act, either against another person or themselves. Research shows that a history of unmanaged anger, domestic violence, and substance abuse are often antecedents of gun violence. Triggering events such as loss of a job or the dissolution of a relationship can exacerbate the situation. Often, family members may be the only individuals aware that person may be a danger to themselves or someone else. Currently in Tennessee and number of other states, there is no mechanism in place for concerned family members to intervene and remove firearms from a loved one they believe to be dangerous.

Currently, the only way mental health can be a factor in whether or not a person can purchase or possess a firearm is if they have been “adjudicated as a mental defective” or involuntarily “committed to any mental institution.”

Broad, Bipartisan Support
GVROs are supported by members of both political parties.  The National Review has written a number of articles on them, encouraging state and federal lawmakers to pass them.  The American Bar Association also supports them as does the American Medical Association.

Suicide Prevention
A study on Connecticut’s GVRO law (called a “risk warrant”) conducted by a team of researcher led by Jeffrey Swanson of Duke, found that removing guns from high risk individuals resulted in a reduction of suicides.  

Firearms remain the most common means of suicide death in Tennessee, accounting for 677 of the recorded suicide deaths in 2016. In 2016, 1.85 people used a gun to take their own life each day.

Who Supports Extreme Risk Protection Orders?

Following Parkland, the National Rifle Association put out a statement and a video indicating support for “red flag laws”, saying “This can help prevent violent behavior before it turns into a tragedy.”

Chris Cox, Director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Affairs speaking about red flag laws on March 12th, 2018, a month after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida

The American Bar Association
The American Bar Association House of Delegates approves Resolution 118B on Aug. 15 during the 2017 Annual Meeting session in New York urging governments to enact statutes, rules and regulations authorizing courts to issue gun violence restraining orders on those who pose a serious threat to himself/herself or others.

Law Enforcement
At their 2018 annual meeting, the Major Cities Chiefs Association released an updated and expanded Firearms Violence Policy in light of mass shootings across the country. They issued a series of policy recommendation, including encouraging passage of red flag laws.

In Tennessee and many other states, if law enforcement is responds to a call about a person acting in a disruptive or disturbing way and is in possession of firearms, unless the person is committing a crime or making a direct threat, the officers cannot remove their firearms, even when they have reason to suspect the person may be dangerous.

The American Medical Association
At their meeting in the summer of 2018, delegates voted to support gun violence restraining orders that would allow family members, intimate partners, household members, and law enforcement personnel to petition a court to remove firearms from individuals who pose a high or imminent risk for violence. 

Senator Marco Rubio
Following the mass school shooting in their home state, Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson outlined a plan Wednesday to provide federal grants to states for establishing gun violence restraining orders.

“It would be a tool,” Rubio said, to prevent “dangerous individuals from being able to take the next step and actually take the lives of innocent people.”

The National Review, a conservative publication, has written a number of articles on the need for red flag laws.

A Gun Control Measure Conservatives Should Consider” – February 16, 2018

Gun Violence Restraining Orders Can Save Lives” – March 1, 2018

Click here to read our comprehensive report on Gun Violence Restraining Orders.

Two red flag law bills were filed for the 2019 legislative session. Read more about HB1049/SB0493 here, and read more about HB1446/SB1178 here.