LD 1175: EXTREME RISK PROTECTION ORDERS
 

What is proposed by this bill?

The bill authorizes judges to temporarily suspend access to firearms by a person in emotional crisis by issuing an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO).

What is an Extreme Risk Protection Order?

An ERPO empowers families and law enforcement to prevent tragedies and save lives. This tool allows family members and law enforcement to ask a judge to temporarily suspend a person’s access to firearms if there is documented evidence that an individual poses a serious threat of violence to themselves or others. Family members and law enforcement are often in the best position to recognize the warning signs of violence and creating an ERPO will provide a tool to prevent a tragedy before it’s too late.
 

Why are Extreme Risk Protection Orders needed?

More people die in Maine from suicide than homicide, with someone dying from suicide every 37 hours.[1] In Maine, suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals ages 15-34. Most individuals who commit suicide and mass shootings exhibit signs of their intentions, but current laws prevent families who are the first to notice warning signs from taking life-saving action. Extreme Risk Protection Orders provide an opportunity to intervene before it is too late.

Between 2005 and 2014, Maine’s firearm suicide rate was 8.0 per 100,000. The rate at which Maine residents commit suicide with a gun is more than four times the rate in Massachusetts, and three times the rates in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

More than half of completed suicides in Maine are by gun. Suicides attempted with a firearm are lethal 82.5% of the time, compared to less than 3% by drug overdose, the most commonly used method to attempt suicide.[2] Suicide is often an impulsive decision and 90% of people who survive suicide attempts don’t go on to kill themselves.[3] Temporarily removing firearms from a person in crisis can prevent tragedies because when a gun is present, there are no second chances.

Maine’s suicide and domestic violence homicide problems are closely linked. In a review of selected cases between 2011 and 2015, the Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel found that most homicides were committed with a firearm and that nine of the sixteen perpetrators threatened suicide prior to or after committing homicide.[4] 


What other states have a similar law?

In 1999, Connecticut became the first state to adopt a risk-based firearm removal law. Additional states that have laws authorizing law enforcement to remove guns from someone identified as a danger to themselves or others include California, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Texas, and Washington State. At least eleven other states are expected to introduce similar bills this year.


Does it work?

Yes. According to a 2016 study, for every 10.5 guns collected under Connecticut’s risk-based firearm removal law between 1999 and 2013, one person was stopped from taking his or her own life.[5] Law enforcement found and removed guns in 99% of cases where they conducted a search, removing an average of seven guns per risk-warrant subject. Another benefit was that many of the individuals in crisis obtained mental health and/or substance abuse treatment they might otherwise not have received. The study concludes that the law effectively targets high-risk individuals without inconveniencing responsible gun owners.

The Consortium for Risk-based Firearm Policy, a group of the nation’s leading experts in mental health, public health, and gun violence prevention, strongly recommends that states implement ERPOs to prevent suicides. For each suicide death prevented by this law, Maine will save $1,134,885 in medical expenses and work loss.[6]


How does an ERPO work?

The ERPO is intentionally modeled on our well-established Protection from Abuse (PFA) orders with careful protections for due process and standards for evidence. This bill provides for emergency orders, which last up-to twenty-one days, and for more permanent orders, which automatically expire after one year.

After a family member or law enforcement files a petition, the court notifies the subject and holds a hearing to determine whether the person poses a serious threat of violence to themselves or others. Before issuing either an emergency or permanent order, a judge would be required to carefully consider evidence, including threats of harm to self or others, previous violent behavior directed at self or others, previous convictions for violent crimes, and/or substance abuse-related crimes.

The family member or law enforcement official seeking the protection order bears the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the subject of the petition poses a significant danger of personal injury to himself, herself, or another by having possession of a firearm and that an ERPO is necessary to prevent personal injury and less restrictive alternatives have been ineffective, inadequate, or inappropriate. If a judge finds sufficient evidence of a threat, the individual will be prohibited from possessing firearms for one year and allow law enforcement to remove any firearms or ammunition already in the individual’s possession.


References:

[1] “Suicide: Maine 2017 Facts and Figures,” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2017 LINK

[2] Rebecca Spicer and Ted Miller, “Suicide Acts in 8 States: Incidence and Case Fatality Rates by Demographics and Method,” American Journal of Public Health, December 2000 LINK

[3] Madeline Drexler, “Guns & Suicide: The Hidden Toll,” Harvard Public Health, 2014 LINK

[4] “On the Path of Prevention: The 11th Biennial Report of the Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel,” June 2016 LINK

[5] Jeffrey Swanson, et al., “Implementation and Effectiveness of Connecticut's Risk-Based Gun Removal Law: Does it Prevent Suicides?” Law and Contemporary Problems, August 2016 LINK

[6] “Suicide: Maine 2017 Facts and Figures,” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2017 LINK