Extreme risk protection orders and their practical implementation and impact on children and adolescents in multiple states: Who petitions for them and why?
Extreme risk protection order (ERPO) laws allow the justice system to remove firearms from individuals at high risk for violence against themselves or others through the use of a civil order. Fourteen states have passed ERPO laws, only five of which passed them prior to 2018. Due to their recentness, systematic evidence is lacking about the use and implementation of ERPO laws and how effective they are protecting children and adolescents. The project team will gather data on the number of ERPOs petitioned for, granted, and denied in three states whose laws were enacted in 2018: Florida, Oregon, and Vermont. Using data from the petitions, the team will determine the frequency of reasons given for requesting an ERPO (including domestic violence, threats of violence against others or self, and possession of a firearm and presence of children and adolescents), and analyze whether the petitions were granted or denied and reasons for denial. Of these three states, only Oregon allows family members to directly petition for ERPOs. The team will conduct a sub-analysis of ERPOs petitioned for by family members versus law enforcement to determine differences in reasons for petitioning and denial rate. Results of this research will be used to formulate and ground hypotheses for future research on the effects of ERPO laws on child and family safety and well-being.
This pilot research project aims to answer key questions about extreme risk protection order (ERPO) laws and their use to help inform the development of future research proposals. The specific aims are:
Aim 1: To operationalize policy strength as it relates to children for red flag laws. The team will conduct legal research to identify policy provisions of ERPO laws and evaluate them in terms of who may petition for ERPOs; eligibility criteria for ERPOs; whether ERPOs restrict gun purchase and possession; and whether the law specifies implementation procedures, such as how firearms are removed; among other provisions. Policies will be analyzed based on access to ERPOs and legal ability for law enforcement to prevent access to guns, with a focus on subtle variations that may be relevant to pediatric firearm injury. For example, one hypothesis is that allowing family members to petition for ERPOs may protect children who are victims of abuse or in households with domestic violence to a greater extent than when only criminal justice system actors are allowed to petition for ERPOs.
Aim 2: To determine how the law is being implemented and used in practice. The team will gather data on the number of ERPOs that are petitioned for, granted, and denied in Oregon, Vermont, and Florida. Characteristics of cases include the category of person who applied for the ERPO (law enforcement or family member) and reasons given for applying for the ERPO. The extent to which ERPOs co-occur with domestic violence restraining orders issued against the ERPO respondent will be assessed. Domestic violence restraining orders also carry federal and state gun prohibitions, and the amount of overlap between these two civil justice tools must be determined.
Methods: This research will be conducted in the states of Oregon, Vermont, and Florida. Scanned ERPO petitions and orders will be gathered through public records requests through the relevant public records officer in each state. Data from these petitions and orders will be abstracted into a database, to be developed in REDCap. This study will employ largely descriptive analyses to determine the reasons petitions are filed for ERPOs. The project team will specifically examine whether and how the petitions and affidavits note and describe safety risks to children and teens. Additionally, the team will investigate whether there are systematic reasons ERPO petitions are denied or granted. Finally, a sub-analysis will be conducted with ERPO petitions from Oregon to test whether justifications for applying for an ERPO differ by category of petitioner, with the hypothesis that family member petitioners will have a higher likelihood of applying for reasons related to family violence than law enforcement petitioners.
Oregon, Vermont, and Florida were chosen as the states to evaluate how three different laws are used in their infancy as each state enacted their ERPO law in 2018. Oregon represents a state that allows both family members and law enforcement to petition for ERPOs. Florida only allows law enforcement to petition, and Vermont is even more restricting in requiring petitions to be filed by prosecuting attorneys (although requests for prosecutors to file these petitions need not emanate from law enforcement officers). Florida, in particular, is important to study because over one thousand ERPO petitions have been granted in the short time since the law’s enactment, far more than in any other state.
This pilot study aims to lay the groundwork for future research in three key ways: 1) By creating an operationalization for the strength of red flag laws to be used in future quantitative policy analyses. 2) By developing and piloting a data collection instrument for ERPO court records to be used in future evaluation studies of ERPO effectiveness. 3) By analyzing implementation data from one state with which to ground future hypotheses.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Michigan State University