Seventeen states and the District of Columbia now have Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws in place. ERPO laws are a promising strategy for preventing gun violence, but in order for them to work as intended, states and localities need to ensure that they are properly implemented. Congress can help by supporting state and local implementation efforts with federal funding to encourage implementation strategies in states with ERPO laws and incentivize additional states to enact these laws. 

Here are five ways that federal funding can advance ERPO implementation:

  1. Train law enforcement. In every state with an ERPO law, law enforcement can file ERPO petitions. Judges evaluate those petitions and decide whether to issue ERPOs. Police departments and sheriffs’ offices serve ERPOs issued by the court and recover the guns. In some jurisdictions, prosecutors’ offices support these efforts. Training is essential for law enforcement to implement ERPO laws in a safe, fair, and effective manner that is consistent with due process protections. Without training, there is a risk of having law enforcement who do not know about ERPOs miss opportunities to prevent shootings. In Maryland, where law enforcement had access to state-wide training prior to the ERPO law taking effect, ERPO petitions have been filed in almost every county.
  2. Build the on-the-ground infrastructure to support implementation. Jurisdictions such as King County, Washington and San Diego, California, have multi-agency collaborative teams that work together to assess how best to respond to individuals at risk of violence and to assure that when an ERPO petition is filed it meets the criteria specified under the law. Federal funding can help sustain current efforts and replicate these collaborative models in other states. In the absence of collaborations across agencies, there is a risk that law enforcement may be unable to apply and process ERPO petitions in an effective, just, and timely manner. 
  3. Educate allied professionals and community stakeholders. ERPO is a tool for intervening early to prevent people who are in crisis from harming themselves or others. Often those who recognize someone is at risk of suicide or is planning to commit a mass shooting are the professionals who know them. Clinicians, teachers and community leaders would benefit from accessible, accurate information about ERPO and how these orders work. Without awareness among professionals that ERPO laws exist, there is a risk that opportunities to engage law enforcement and the courts in effective prevention will be missed.  
  4. Support research to inform ERPO implementation. ERPO implementation varies among states and local jurisdictions. Rigorous evaluations that compare different implementation models and their relationship to ERPO law impacts are needed to improve policy and practice. Such research is critical to maximizing the impact of these laws. Without research, the opportunity to learn from the different implementation models underway will be lost.
  5. Improve the national background check system. For the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to be effective, all disqualifying information needs to be entered into the system through a timely and accurate process. Assuring that all ERPO respondents are included in NICS for the duration of the orders, and removed when the orders are no longer in effect, is an essential part of EPRO implementation. If ERPO respondents are not included in NICS, people identified as at risk for suicide or inter-personal violence will be able to purchase guns from licensed firearm dealers.

Most gun deaths in this country occur by suicide. In many but not all such cases, warning signs are known, and those close to the person at risk attempt to intervene. Too often they don’t have a tool for removing those firearms from the equation. ERPO provides that tool. Law enforcement in several ERPO states report that ERPOs are most commonly being used to prevent suicide. Early research suggests that ERPO laws are a promising strategy for preventing suicide.

ERPOs can also provide a tool to prevent mass shootings. A preliminary review of California’s use of its law provides 21 examples of mass shooting plans thwarted through ERPO intervention. Anecdotes from other ERPO states echo the California experience. 

ERPO laws fill an important gap by providing a mechanism for temporarily removing guns from people who are behaving dangerously and at risk of committing suicide or harming others -- before permanent violence happens. ERPOs counter the notion that we are powerless to intervene until a crime has been committed. With the public and policymakers calling for real solutions to gun violence, federal support for state and local ERPO laws and their implementation offers a clear path forward that will save lives.

This post was originally published in The Hill.