A Critical Opportunity for Extreme Risk Protection Order Implementation

By Lisa Geller and Spencer Cantrell

One year ago, on June 25, 2022, President Biden signed the historic Bipartisan Safer Communities Act into law. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was the first significant federal gun violence prevention law in nearly 30 years and represented a willingness to fund the implementation of evidence-based gun violence prevention policies nationwide. The political will to pass such momentous legislation was tragically galvanized by several mass shootings at the time, including the attack at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and 2 educators were shot and killed and over 2 dozen people were injured, and in a Buffalo, New York, supermarket where 10 people were killed and 3 people were injured in a racially motivated attack—both of which occurred in May 2022. The signing also occurred following the death of 48,830 Americans from gun violence in 2021.

The Act included critical components to address gun violence and dedicated funding ($750 million over five years) for crisis intervention programs and efforts. This included the first federal funding for the implementation of extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs), also called “red flag laws.”

Extreme Risk Protection Orders and their Impacts

ERPOs are civil orders that temporarily prohibit an individual at risk of suicide or interpersonal violence from purchasing or possessing firearms. They provide an opportunity to proactively prevent gun violence rather than waiting for a tragedy to act. With Governors Walz (Minnesota) and Whitmer (Michigan) signing their state’s ERPO legislation into law most recently in May 2023, as of June 2023, 21 states and the District of Columbia have an ERPO law in place. Ten years prior, only Connecticut and Indiana had ERPO-style laws. Most of the states with these laws on the books passed them after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Research conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and other institutions around the country has shown how ERPOs have been used in response to threats of suicide and interpersonal violence, including mass shootings. A study of Connecticut’s ERPO-style law found that for every 10 to 20 ERPOs issued, one suicide is prevented. Research from California found that their ERPO law, called a gun violence restraining order, was used in efforts to prevent 21 mass shootings from 2016 to 2018. The stories from states and jurisdictions implementing ERPOs are also persuasive in demonstrating how lives have been saved. In Washington state, an ERPO was used to seize an arsenal of weapons from someone who had shared on social media their plans to commit a mass shooting and kill Jewish people at a synagogue. In another instance, a woman filed an ERPO against her boyfriend after he had previously attempted suicide and sought to purchase a firearm. At the hearing, the couple came together and the man had no objection to the order. He was thankful that someone cared enough to ensure he did not have access to a gun during his suicidal crisis. In another situation, a man threatened to kill his family and employees at his family’s business in California. His mother successfully petitioned for an ERPO, and his 26 firearms were surrendered. Stories like these are important reminders of the real impact of ERPO laws and the lives likely saved because of them.

Implementing ERPO

Until recently, funding to implement these laws was sparse. The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, in partnership with the US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), recently established the national ERPO Resource Center. It will serve as a training and technical assistance hub designed to support states and localities in the implementation and expansion of ERPO programs. Training and technical assistance will include developing and disseminating educational opportunities, including workshops, for a wide variety of stakeholders, providing implementation support, supporting peer-to-peer engagements with model learning sites, performing site assessments, and developing presentations and webinars that will advance states and localities’ knowledge in key areas related to ERPOs. The ERPO Resource Center will also ensure that the funding received through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act is well spent, and that the law’s required constitutional and due process protections are embedded into each state’s activities. In collaboration with BJA, the Center will support ERPO implementers throughout the country, including law enforcement, prosecutors, attorneys, judges, clinicians, victim service providers, community organizations, and behavioral health and other social services providers.

Just last month, we released a report, “Promising Approaches for Implementing Extreme Risk Laws: A Guide for Practitioners and Policymakers,” with Everytown for Gun Safety, outlining practices and approaches to ensure effective ERPO implementation. The recommendations in the report were informed by discussions with experts who are pioneering best practices for ERPO implementation and are aimed at helping states effectively utilize federal funding to improve implementation. Included among the recommendations in this report is guidance for creating effective ERPO infrastructure, training protocols and programs, and rigorous evaluation of implementation efforts.

As gun violence continues to ravage our country, we must continue to support evidence-based approaches to save lives. But we know that passing laws is just the first step. With funding to support the implementation of ERPO programs, the potential to realize the promise of keeping people safe from gun violence is within reach.


Lisa Geller is the state affairs advisor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions and co-lead of the Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs-funded ERPO Training and Technical Assistance Center. She also is an affiliate scholar with the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium at the Rockefeller Institute of Government.
Spencer Cantrell is the federal affairs advisor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions and co-lead of the Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs-funded ERPO Training and Technical Assistance Center.

Lisa and Spencer can be reached at [email protected] with questions about ERPO implementation or requests for ERPO training and technical assistance.

This project was supported by Grant No. 15PBJA-22-GK-04997-BSCI awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the US Department of Justice.