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Public Knowledge of 'Red Flag' Laws Key To Effectiveness, Study Says

A new study found that public knowledge of Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws, and public attitudes toward their implementation, is crucial to their effectiveness, The Trace reports. Often called “red flag” laws, ERPOs work to prevent gun tragedies by allowing law enforcement, family members, or friends to petition courts for a civil order to separate people in crisis from access to firearms temporarily, Forms of the law have been enacted in 21 states and Washington, D.C., many of them in reaction to the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting in 2018. Commissioned by the Joyce Foundation, the study was undertaken by the Ad Council Research Institute and published during the institute’s public messaging campaign. Among its findings is that more effective communication about how these laws work can help keep communities safe from gun violence. A coming toolkit will provide guidance on public awareness, messaging, and implementation, including how to identify a trusted source and how best to frame educational messaging around the laws.

The study surveyed more than 10,000 respondents from 19 states that allow extreme risk protection orders, plus Washington, D.C. The research comes at a time when ERPO laws are being developed and implemented nationwide under the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which provides funds to states for programs on mental health, school safety, and the process of obtaining firearms. The Biden administration followed up on these reforms by directing the federal government to increase public awareness of such programs. The study found that 65 percent of respondents were aware of protection orders but only seven percent considered themselves very familiar with the laws. Along with state-specific information, the authors suggest that two frames work best to inform and motivate the public about ERPOs: “success stories,” or personal anecdotes from people who used the law successfully, and what the study referred to as “lethal combination,” which places an emphasis on the laws’ design to prevent negative action by a person at risk and who has access to a firearm, rather than serving as a punishment.


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