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As More States Implement Red Flag Laws, A National Center Aims To Increase Effectiveness

Following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that took the lives of 14 students and three educators, the state implemented what is known as a “red flag” law, which gives judges the authority to order that firearms be removed from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. 

That was in 2018, and at the time Florida was only the sixth state in the country to implement such a laws, which are formally known as Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws. But since then, over a dozen more states have followed suit, The Trace reports

Now, a partnership between the federal government and Johns Hopkins University will help state governments increase the effectiveness of their red flag laws. Recently, Vice President Kamala Harris visited Parkland to publicly launch the National ERPO Resource Center. 

Implementing red flag laws requires the coordination among actors in the criminal justice system — it is not an automatic process. Someone has to identify a risk and file a petition, a judge has to consider each case individually, law enforcement has to carry out the order, either by seizing a gun or preventing a future purchase. And at each step there is a potential for gaps and missteps. 

“These laws are only as good as they are implemented,” Lisa Geller, the co-director of the new resource center at Johns Hopkins, said. 

Red flag laws also rely on public awareness and local implementation. If people at risk are not aware of the law or don’t think of them as an option, they can’t begin the process of seizing a gun. 

The ERPO center is working to improve both those things, essentially operating as a hub to support state and local officials as they endeavor to make risk protection orders fit local needs, and connect stakeholders to share best practices. 

It trained more than 1,200 judges, social workers, law enforcement officials, victims advocates, attorneys, community organizations, and health professionals in 2023, and its website includes resources for both officials and the public. 

Two million dollars in funding for the ERPO Resource Center comes from the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which also allocated hundreds of millions of dollars for state crisis intervention programs, including risk protection orders.

At least six states are using federal grant money to strengthen their red flag laws. Officials in Illinois are using $9.5 million in grant funds for training, enforcement, and building out community infrastructure to handle the red flag order process. 

In Massachusetts, the state Department of Public Safety is using its $4.9 million in grant funds in part for public education and training in the hopes of making ERPOs more accessible.

“Some states are pretty far along in their process,” Geller said. “Some states are not as far along in the process. And so, for those states, we want to make sure that we’re available with any questions that they have.”


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