PI: April M. Zeoli, Michigan State University and Shannon Frattaroli, Johns Hopkins University
Over the next two years, Criminal Justice professor Dr. April M. Zeoli will conduct a multi-state investigation through a $1,357,336 grant awarded by the National Collaborative for Gun Violence Research. The study will examine Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws, characteristics of ERPO petitions, factors associated with petitions being granted or denied and violent outcomes. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia currently have ERPO laws, most of which were enacted since 2015.. However, few studies have yet been conducted to determine whether the policies reduce gun violence and population-level suicide risk. Dr. Zeoli said her investigation is “the most comprehensive and ambitious project on ERPOs to date” and will educate the public, stakeholders and policymakers on their use and effect.
“The goal is to be able to provide some solid empirical evidence about how [ERPOs] are being used and what the outcomes are so that all of the stakeholders in this debate can take and interpret that evidence and act accordingly,” Zeoli said.
ERPOs, also known as gun violence restraining orders or red-flag laws, are preemptive protective orders and a relatively new legal tool to reduce gun violence risk. With ERPO laws in place, law enforcement (and in some states, family members or medical professionals) can petition a court to temporarily restrict a person’s access to firearms. ERPOs differ from prohibited purchaser regulations that prevent specific groups of people from owning a firearm, often for the rest of their lives, or laws that require the removal of firearms. What distinguishes an ERPO is that it is a temporary civil (not criminal) court order. It can temporarily prevent someone from accessing firearms if the court decides that the person is at high risk for firearm violence..
The NCGVR grant allows Dr. Zeoli and her team to assess how cultural contexts within different states can affect how ERPO laws are implemented, the reasons petitioners request an ERPO, and whether ERPOs are associated with population levels of firearm suicide. To do this, the investigation is zeroing in on six unique states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland and Washington.
Casting this wide net to sample from is how Dr. Zeoli and her team plan to understand the numerous ways that ERPOs are currently being used in the United States. For example, Zeoli explained that some states only allow law enforcement to petition for someone to be served an ERPO. Maryland extends their law further, allowing health professions to petition the court. To complicate the boundaries of the law further, on the other end of the spectrum are states like Colorado. Since Colorado officials signed the ERPO bill last April, over half of its 64 counties have declared that they will not implement of enforce ERPOs.. With such a diverse group of states, the research team will be able to investigate how ERPOs are being used in differing counties and states and whether they are associated with reductions in county-level suicide.
Dr. Zeoli is also hopeful her study on the robust legal tool will answer questions about whether and how ERPOs are being used by survivors of domestic violence. In many states, domestic violence restraining orders include gun restrictions, but respondents are often not required to relinquish their guns.
“We suspect for many states and jurisdictions, and know for some jurisdictions, that law enforcement officers do not remove guns from people who are restricted from having them under domestic violence restraining orders” Zeoli said. “So, if someone gets the domestic violence restraining order and the guns aren’t taken away, will the Extreme Risk Protection order be their next step?”
You can learn more about this project, here.
MSU Today also covered Dr. Zeoli’s project and highlighted the NCGVR officials’ commitment to reducing gun violence.
Additional funded research projects on gun violence co-conducted by Dr. Zeoli:
Note from the Editor: The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the view of the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research.