Coalition is focused on bill that would take guns away from dangerous individuals

Courtesy of the New York State Senate

A coalition of lawmakers and gun control groups are coordinating their efforts this session to pass a law that would create “extreme risk” orders of protection to take guns away from dangerous individuals, at least temporarily, by a court order.

State Senators Brian Kavanagh and Brad Hoylman, along with Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, are teaming up with groups like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City to pass bill S.7133/A.8976 that would prevent access to firearms, rifles and shotguns to those who, through the judicial process, have been deemed likely to harm themselves or others.

In 2014, California became the first state to pass a law empowering family members and police to petition a court to have a person’s access to guns temporarily suspended when they are found at risk of harming themselves or others.

In 2016, Washington State enacted similar measures through a ballot initiative. Laws providing a procedure for the removal of firearms from at-risk individuals have existed in Indiana since 2005, and studies have shown that a similar provision of Connecticut law, adopted in 1999, has resulted in a measurable reduction in suicide rates, the bill sponsors say.

All of these laws have withstood legal challenges.

“When a person exhibits warning signs that they pose a risk of serious harm to themselves or others, family members often observe these signs firsthand,” said Simon, who is the sponsor of the Assembly bill. “But in New York, even if these concerns are reported, law enforcement has no authority to act and help prevent tragedies including interpersonal gun violence or suicide involving a gun.”

A temporary Extreme Risk Order of Protection would restrict a person’s access to firearms if they pose a serious risk to themselves or others, while providing due process protections and the right to appeal, Simon said.

The bill’s justification states that family and household members are often the first to know when someone is experiencing a crisis or exhibiting dangerous behavior. Many even report their fears to law enforcement. However, in New York, as in many other states, police usually do not have the authority to intervene.

Half of the gun deaths in New York state are suicides and a study by researchers at Duke and Yale universities published in 2017 showed that Connecticut’s 1998 risk-based gun removal law has had an impact on preventing suicide by guns after it was enacted.

Groups such as New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety, the New York Chapter of Moms Demand Action, Citizens Crime Commission of New York City and Giffords have made this bill a priority in the 2018 legislative session.

“Five years ago, New York enacted the NY SAFE Act, making our gun violence prevention laws among the strongest in the nation. But even though we have the 48th lowest rate of gun deaths in the country, gun violence is still hurting New Yorkers — and we have a responsibility to act,” said Kavanagh, who is the chair of American State Legislators for Gun Violence Prevention. “Extreme Risk Protection Orders are a commonsense reform that could make a real difference.”

Specifically, the bill creates a court process where family members and police can petition a state court to issue an order preventing an individual from purchasing or possessing guns. If the court finds that the individual is likely to harm him- or herself or others, the judge may issue an initial ex parte ERPO, and the individual would be required to surrender any guns to the proper authorities and would be prohibited from purchasing guns. After a second hearing, the judge could extend the order for up to a year, at which point it would expire, unless a petition is filed to renew the order.

Those deemed a risk would have one opportunity during the year-long ERPO period to petition the court and present evidence as to why the order should be lifted once per year. If the order expires and is not renewed, or if the order is lifted sooner, guns surrendered would be returned to the individual and all records of the proceedings would be sealed.

“Over 30,000 Americans lose their lives to gun violence each year. More than 500 have been killed in just the first 16 days of 2018,” said Hoylman, a sponsor of the Senate bill. “Thoughts and prayers are not enough anymore.”