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MN safe storage

Extreme risk laws help prevent a person in crisis from harming themselves or others by temporarily removing guns and prohibiting the purchase of firearms.

Extreme risk laws have various names, like red flag laws, Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GRVOs), or Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs), but they all have the same goal: empowering community members to prevent gun violence without threatening the Second Amendment right articulated by the Supreme Court.


While the specifics vary by state, extreme risk laws allow a family member, law enforcement, or other key individuals to present evidence to a civil court judge that an individual is at risk of harming themselves or others.

The extreme risk law process intentionally mirrors the domestic violence order process, because domestic violence orders exist in every state and have largely been upheld as constitutional. The behavioral risk factors that a judge in an extreme risk law case typically considers include:

  • Patterns or recent threats and acts of violence

  • Dangerous past behavior with guns

  • Substance abuse

  • Recent firearms or ammunition acquisition

A judge may consider these and other factors when determining whether to intervene. Consistent with procedural safeguards, the at-risk individual is allowed an opportunity to be heard and present other evidence before the judge in a civil – not criminal – court hearing.

If the judge finds that the evidence warrants temporarily removing guns from the at-risk individual, then the judge issues an order known as an extreme risk protection order (ERPO). An ERPO prevents the person in crisis from purchasing a gun and allows law enforcement to temporarily hold any guns already owned for safekeeping.

At a subsequent hearing, the ERPO can be extended if there is additional evidence that the person in crisis continues to be a threat to themselves or others. The individual can again present evidence in their defense.

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Take action signs

Extreme risk laws are an evidence-based tool that can help prevent many forms of gun violence before they occur – suicide, interpersonal violence, and mass shootings alike.

Frequently, family members, partners, coworkers, or housemates are able to identify warning signs or concerning behaviors before an individual acts. But more often than not, those concerned about an individual have no official mechanism to prevent them from obtaining or using guns against themselves or others, leading to tragic consequences.

We cannot talk about the epidemic of gun violence in this country without talking about suicide. 

In 2022 alone, over 46,000 people lost their lives to guns in America - and nearly 27,000 of those deaths were firearm suicide. Firearm suicide attempts result in death a staggering 90% of the time, compared to just 3% percent for other common methods, like intentional drug misuse. The presence of a gun turns what is frequently an impulsive act — usually not repeated if the person survives — into an almost always fatal act. People who choose a firearm over other methods typically do not have the opportunity or ability to summon help or reconsider. By temporarily removing firearms or making them more difficult to access for individuals in the midst of a crisis, those with suicidal ideation are more likely to survive and get a second chance at life. That second chance is critical: the vast majority—about 90 percent—of people who make a suicide attempt and survive do not ultimately go on to die by suicide later in life. This is why laws like extreme risk protection orders are so important.

In addition to being a life-saving and effective tool for family members to remove guns from a person in a mental or behavioral health crisis, extreme risk laws can potentially prevent mass or school shootings. 

Many recent mass shooters exhibited warning signs before carrying out their attacks. In fact, 42% of individuals who commit mass shootings exhibit warning signs. That includes the gunman responsible for the Congressional baseball shooting in Alexandria, VA (2017), the gunman who attacked co-workers at the Bronx Lebanon Hospital in Bronx, NY (2017), the gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL (2018), and the gunman behind the shootings in Lewiston, ME (2023), Each had long and complex histories of violent and threatening behaviors, according to family members or co-workers. These are exactly the types of behaviors and violence patterns that petitioners cite to obtain a life-saving order.

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Do extreme risk laws work?

Gun safety scotus

Yes. A study evaluating Connecticut’s extreme risk law found that for every 10 to 20 orders issued, a life was saved. In addition to the temporary removal of firearms, in 44% of cases where an extreme risk law was enacted, the respondent received psychiatric treatment they may not have otherwise received.

A recent study showed that extreme risk laws may provide exactly the type of urgent and individualized intervention that could prevent future mass shootings. This study examines California’s extreme risk law between 2016 and 2018 and found that 21 out of the 159 issued Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GVROs) prevented a potential mass shooting.

While many extreme risk laws were passed in the wake of a tragic mass shooting, the majority of these laws are used to prevent firearm suicide. In fact, suicidal ideation was cited as the primary reason for issuing the order in 70% of ERPOs in Indiana. 

Extreme risk laws are proven to be effective in reducing gun violence. However, their effectiveness is often limited due to a lack of public awareness. When there was a concerted effort to educate the public about their state’s ERPO, Connecticut experienced a 13.7% reduction in gun-related suicides between 2007 and 2015.

Which states have extreme risk protection order laws?

Twenty-one states and Washington, D.C. have enacted versions of extreme risk laws. Who can petition in states varies, but most often law enforcement and family members have the power to use this tool to protect someone from risk.

Connecticut became the first state to pass an extreme risk law in 1999, but further uptake by states was slow, with only four more states passing ERPO legislation between 1999 and 2018. As all-too-often happens, it took a tragedy wherein an ERPO could have saved lives to inspire other states to act: following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL in 2018, 16 states passed versions of extreme risk laws.

  • California (2016)
  • Colorado (2019)
  • Connecticut (1999)
  • Delaware (2018)
  • Florida (2018)
  • Hawaii (2019)
  • Illinois (2019)
  • Indiana (2005)
  • Maryland (2018)
  • Massachusetts (2018)
  • Nevada (2019)
  • New Jersey (2019)
  • New York (2019)
  • Oregon (2018)
  • Rhode Island (2018)
  • Vermont (2018)
  • Washington (2016)
  • Washington, D.C. (2019)
  • New Mexico (2020)
  • Virginia (2020)
The public overwhelmingly supports extreme risk laws

of non-gun owners and 75% of gun owners support extreme risk laws, according to a 2017 study by Johns Hopkins.

Facts and Myths About Extreme Risk Laws

MYTH: Extreme risk laws permanently prohibit a person’s ability to purchase or possess guns.

Fact: This is false. ERPOs are temporary civil orders, which respect a person’s constitutional rights by allowing them to respond to the individual bringing a petition before a judge. Both the petitioner and the affected individual have an opportunity to present evidence before the court. The affected individual may submit a request for the judge to reconsider the order based on new evidence for each time that it is renewed.

MYTH: Extreme risk laws remove procedural safeguards.

FACT: This is false. These laws are intentionally modeled after domestic violence laws that exist in all 50 states and have been largely upheld as constitutional. In states that have enacted extreme risk laws, the burden of proof falls on the person bringing the petition, whether civilian or law enforcement. When a judge issues an order, the affected individual receives notice and can present evidence that they are not a risk to keep their access to firearms. If an ex-parte order (one without the accused present) is issued, it requires at least one hearing within a short time frame where the individual is given the opportunity to respond to the evidence presented before a “final” order is issued.

MYTH: States do not have protections against filing false petitions.

FACT: This is false. Most states have protections that make it illegal to file a false petition. Evidence must be presented before a court, and punishments for filing false petitions may include fines or jail time. In states where extreme risk laws have been enacted, anecdotal evidence shows they are typically only used in high-risk scenarios.


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