Of the over 45,000 firearm deaths in the United States in 2020, 10,197 (22%) were children and youth 0-24 years old. It will take a multi-pronged approach to stem the tide of this public health epidemic linked to gun violence and help save thousands of lives.
Some of these approaches were discussed this week in a bipartisan bill from the Senate, which passed the Senate last night with a 65-35 vote, with 15 Republicans voting in favor. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act includes state funding to implement Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws or “red flag” laws. According to the state, these laws allow certain people (law enforcement, family members, etc.) to ask a court to temporarily prohibit a person at risk of harm to themselves or others from possessing or buying a firearm fire, thus avoiding potential risks of suicidal or murderous thoughts, including mass shooting threats.
Studies have shown that red flag laws are effective in preventing suicide and mass shootings. Although of general application, these laws could protect children living in households threatened by domestic violence. They can also prevent older at-risk youth from committing acts of violence against themselves or others.
ERPO laws are important for their life-saving impact on all Americans, but are also beneficial because there is bipartisan agreement that they do not infringe on Second Amendment rights. These laws are also supported by professional organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics as a priority of the armed violence prevention policy.
In pediatrics, we often look after children until they graduate from college – in their early twenties. Since young adults 18 and older can legally purchase long guns, including military-style semi-automatic assault weapons, ERPO laws also directly impact this age group. ERPO laws could also reduce the risk that young children living in homes affected by domestic violence or living with people with mental health problems or substance use disorders of being literally caught in the crossfire of a home shootout (although individuals with mental health disorders are more likely to be victims of gun violence than perpetrators.) Just like civil protection orders as restraining orders can protect children who may be living in a situation at risk of domestic or intimate partner violence, ERPO laws could also protect children.
ERPO laws allow those who will most likely encounter and protect at-risk individuals—including family members, health care providers, school officials, or law enforcement—to throw or file a request. They can directly empower those affected, including loved ones of suicidal teens and victims of domestic violence. Thus, it is imperative that residents of states with ERPO laws know and understand them. how to file a petition. It is not enough to simply pass red flag laws; States should also ensure that their residents are aware that these laws could be an important mechanism to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities.
National financial incentives for states to adopt or strengthen ERPO laws are important to train law enforcement and educate residents, as well as those in the justice system, about what red flag laws can do and how and when to use them. Financial resources also allow government agencies to coordinate to more effectively implement these laws. Without this national support, some states that currently have ERPO laws might decide to repeal them, and others might choose not to enact them at all. Such measures can also encourage states to make existing red flag laws more effective. Indiana, for example, has a red flag law with a fatal loophole: people whose firearms were seized under the ERPO can still buy new firearms.
Currently, only 19 states and the District of Columbia have these laws. As gun violence prevention discussions continue about how best to balance public safety and individual rights, ERPO Laws can be the least intrusive public safety measure, the solution that both allows gun enthusiasts to pursue their interests without unnecessary hindrances and protects those who are in danger to themselves or others.
But to maximize the effectiveness of these laws, we must ensure that they are widely adopted and made aware of by law enforcement and the public in order to protect those at risk and the community as a whole, including our children. and our young people.
Lois K. Lee, MD MPH is a pediatric emergency physician at Boston Children’s Hospital and an associate professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School. Jody Lynee Madeira, JD, Ph.D., is Louis F. Neizer Professor of Law and Faculty Member, and Co-Director of the Center for Law, Society & Culture at Indiana University Maurer School of Law.