H.R. 3076, The Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Act (FERPO)
Bottom Line: The Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Act (FERPO), introduced in the House by Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA) as H.R. 3076 and introduced last Congress as S. 2521 by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), would empower family members and law enforcement to intervene when a person sends up warning signs that they pose a danger to self or others. The shooter who killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida had displayed serious warning signs—indeed, his mother had placed multiple calls to police. Following the model of 17 states with Extreme Risk laws, FERPO would enable a judge to temporarily block a person in crisis from having guns if there is clear evidence they are a risk to themselves or others with a gun.
- FERPO would open federal courts to family and law enforcement, and is the only way to ensure emergency action can be taken in all 50 states to intervene before a suicide, a mass shooting, or another tragedy. It should be paired with robust federal funding for implementation of existing state Extreme Risk systems, a policy introduced in multiple bills this Congress.
Extreme Risk laws create an opportunity to intervene before threats turn deadly.
- When a person is in crisis, loved ones and law enforcement are often the first to see signs that they pose a threat. An Extreme Risk (or “Red Flag”) law like this one allows family and police to seek an Extreme Risk protection order to remove guns from dangerous situations.
- Under FERPO, if a court finds clear evidence that a person poses a danger to self or others with a firearm, they will be temporarily prohibited from having guns and required to turn over any guns while the order is in effect.
FERPO would open the federal courts to law enforcement and family petitioners, using a process based on the existing process in state courts.
- This policy would create a national system, taking what has been so effective in the states and extending its reach to all 50 states. Federal courts are accustomed to adjudicating emergency petitions and are well positioned to hear these cases.
Sixteen states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, along with Washington, DC—have similar laws,1 including eleven passed since Parkland.
- In a single county in Maryland, more than 100 firearms were transferred to the sheriff’s office in just the first eight months after the state passed its law, showing the dramatic impact Extreme Risk orders can have for people in crisis.2 And throughout the state, Maryland’s Extreme Risk law has been invoked in at least four cases involving “significant threats” against schools, according to leaders of the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association.3
- In the first year of Seattle’s regional firearms enforcement unit, the unit recovered 200 firearms as a result of 48 orders. According to the City Attorney’s Office, the use of Extreme Risk orders has been effective in temporarily preventing access to firearms by students who threatened violence against themselves, their schools, and other students.4
Mass shooters often display warning signs before committing violent acts.
- A nationwide study of mass shootings from 2009 to 2017 revealed that in at least 51 percent of those incidents, the attacker exhibited dangerous warning signs before the shooting.5
- Before killing six people in Isla Vista, California in May 2014, the shooter made homicidal and suicidal threats. His parents alerted law enforcement, but he did not meet the criteria for a commitment. In response to that shooting, California passed its own Extreme Risk law.
- The shooter who killed 17 people and injured 15 others at a high school in Parkland, Florida in February 2018 had been expelled from school, and students and teachers reported he displayed threatening behavior. His mother had repeatedly contacted law enforcement.
FERPO has robust due process protections.
- Long-term orders can last for up to six months, and are issued only after the person has an opportunity to respond to evidence at a hearing that they are too dangerous to have a gun.
- Courts may first issue an emergency order, but only if necessary in a crisis situation to prevent an imminent risk of personal injury. That order may last only for three days before a hearing is held.6
Extreme Risk laws also address another American gun violence epidemic—firearm suicide.
- One study found that Connecticut’s Extreme Risk law was associated with a 14 percent reduction in the state’s firearm suicide rate,7 and another found that one suicide was averted for approximately every 11 orders under the law.8
- Blocking a suicidal person’s access to gun can save their life. Approximately eighty-five percent of suicide attempts with a gun result in death.9 By contrast, less than 5 percent of people who attempt suicide using other means die10—and the vast majority of those who survive do not go on to die by suicide.11 Access to a gun triples the risk of suicide.12
Published: June 7, 2019
1. The Nevada bill is expected to be signed into law in the week of 6/3/19. Cal. Penal Code § 18125; Cal. Penal Code § 18150; Cal. Penal Code § 18175; Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-38c; Fla. Stat. § 790.401; Ind. Code § 35-47-14-1; Ind. Code § 35-47-14-2; Ind. Code § 35-47-14-5; Ind. Code § 35-47-14-6; Ind. Code § 35-47-14-8; 2018 MD HB 1302; 2019 NV A 291; 2018 NJ A 1217; 2017 Ore. SB 719; 13 VSA 4051, et seq.; RI Gen Laws 8-8.3-1, et seq.; Wash. Rev. Code § 7.94.030; Wash. Rev. Code § 7.94.040; Wash. Rev. Code § 7.94.050; Wash. Rev. Code § 7.94.080.↩
2. More than 100 weapons, thousands of rounds of ammunition confiscated under Maryland’s red flag law in Prince George’s county.CBS Baltimore. May 21, 2019. https://cbsloc.al/2HJFuQf.↩
3. Broadwater L. Sheriff: Maryland’s ‘red flag’ law prompted gun seizures after four ‘significant threats’ against schools.The Baltimore Sun. January 15, 2019. https://bit.ly/2Gdf6Qi.↩
4. 12-month period from January 2018 to December 2018. Acquired via correspondence with Christopher Anderson, director of the Domestic Violence Unit of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office.↩
5. Everytown for Gun Safety. Mass shootings in the United States: 2009-2017. https://every.tw/1XVAmcc. December 2018.↩
6. The respondent may opt to delay the hearing.↩
7. Kivisto AJ, Phalen PL. Effects of risk-based firearm seizure laws in Connecticut and Indiana on suicide rates, 1981-2015.Psychiatric Services. 2018; 69(8): 855-862.↩
8. Swanson JW, Norko M, Lin H, Alanis-Hirsch K, Frisman L, Baranoski M, Easter M, Robertson AG, Swartz M, and Bonnie RJ. Implementation and effectiveness of Connecticut’s risk-based gun removal law: does it prevent suicides? Law and Contemporary Problems. 2017; 80: 179-208.↩
9. Miller M, Azrael D, Barber C. Suicide mortality in the United States: the importance of attending to method in understanding population-level disparities in the burden of suicide.Annual Review of Public Health. 2012; 33: 393-408.↩
11. Owens D, Horrocks J, House A. Fatal and non-fatal repetition of self-harm: systematic review. British Journal of Psychiatry. 2002; 181: 193-199.↩
12. Anglemyer A, Horvath T, Rutherford G. The Accessibility of Firearms and Risk for Suicide and Homicide Victimization Among Household Members: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2014;160:101–110. doi: 10.7326/M13-1301.↩