Extreme Risk Protection Orders
Episode 3, Understanding Firearm-Related Injury and School Violence Podcast Series
In this episode, we discuss Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) and their impact on school safety. Dr. April Zeoli guides us through a detailed discussion of ERPOs, their role in preventing firearm-related injuries in schools, and how they intersect with school safety.
Explore the Series
- Access the full Understanding Firearm-Related Injury and School Violence here
- Listen to the series on YouTube
- Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention, University of Michigan (mentioned at 03:34)
- Commentary for Extreme Risk Protection Order Model Legislation, U.S. Department of Justice
This podcast was produced by Katy Hunter, Research Assistant at the National Center for School Safety.
April Zeoli: So policy can do a lot of different things. It’s actually really flexible. Extreme Risk Protection Orders are a civil court order that temporarily suspends a person’s right to purchase and possess a gun. That teen is not going to have a criminal record because of this Extreme Risk Protection Order. It’s a civil court order specifically so it can be lifesaving and not detrimental to that person’s life. Really no one wants to be that person, but sometimes it is absolutely necessary to save their life. And it’s better to save their life, than to avoid being that person.
Katy Hunter: Hello and welcome to Progress Report. This podcast is produced by the National Center for School Safety based out of the University of Michigan. We serve as the STOP School Violence program’s national training and technical assistance center, and we are focused on improving school safety and preventing school violence across the United States.
In this episode, we’ll be speaking with a policy analyst about how policy can be used to promote school safety. Throughout the podcast, you’ll hear the phrases “firearm injury” and “gun violence”–what we are really referring to here is injury or violence related to or involving firearms.
Let’s start with an instruction start. Who are you and what do you do?
April Zeoli: My name is April Zeoli, and I’m an Associate Professor in the Department of Health Management and Policy at the U-M School of Public Health. And I’m also the director of the policy core for the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention. And I am a firearm policy analyst. I study state and federal laws around firearm safety and I study them to see whether or not they have the intended consequences. Often it’s homicide reduction. And I also look at the implementation of those laws to see if they’re actually being used and being used as intended. Because without implementation, laws are words on a piece of paper and we wouldn’t expect them to do much of anything.
Katy Hunter: So how did you get into the work you do now?
April Zeoli: I came to this work from an interest in domestic violence prevention, and this is from having had friends in my late teens and early 20s who went through violent experiences with their boyfriends. Or I should say it more plainly, whose boyfriends abused them. So really wanting to focus on prevention of intimate partner violence.
And I attended school for my PhD at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. And they had a very strong firearm violence prevention faculty. And I was joined up with those faculty because I was interested in violence prevention, and firearm violence prevention focusing quite a lot in the, in my early days on firearm violence, in domestic violence. It just became my world.
Katy Hunter: As a policy analyst what does your work entail?
April Zeoli: In the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention I am the point person for all things policy and law. And what that means is number one, that’s what my research is about. And that’s just always gonna be what my research is about, that’s who I am as a researcher.
But I also work on training postdocs who have a research interest in policy and I am the person that gets all the media requests around what firearm laws do, what the research suggests. More recently, what’s happening in Michigan and what firearm laws does Michigan have and what firearm bills are being proposed.
And just really staying abreast on all things firearm policy so that I am flexible and nimble enough to respond to whatever is coming down the pike. And you never really know.
Katy Hunter: You’ve mentioned the idea that policy can be used to combat firearm violence. Could you describe the ways that policy can be used to create positive change?
April Zeoli: So policy can do a lot of different things. It’s actually really flexible. So I’ll give you a couple of different examples. One is something that I suspect people don’t think about all that much when they think of policy, but one is simply funding. And there are a lot of programs like Cure Violence programs and Safe Streets programs and different community violence interventions that need funding if they are going to happen. And some of these programs have quite an evidence base around them, and you need to be funded to continue to have the impact that they’re having. And so sometimes policy is really just allocating more money to these programs. Take the Federal Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that was passed in summer 2022, which allocated $250 million for community violence interventions, for example.
Another thing that policy can do, and this is where my research lies, is work on making sure that people who are unsafe to have firearms don’t have firearms. So what this means in less vague terms is we know some risk factors for firearm violence. Let’s take Extreme Risk Protection Orders. Extreme Risk Protection Orders are a civil court order that temporarily suspends a person’s right to purchase and possess a gun. Now, it is only to be used in cases where that person is an imminent danger of harming themselves or others. And we have a pretty good idea about what some of those risk factors are, and essentially their behaviors. Behavioral risk factors, engaging in dangerous behaviors. And 19 states and the District of Columbia at this moment have laws that say that if you’re engaging in these types of dangerous behaviors—it differs by state—then a judge can grant an Extreme Risk Protection Order, disallowing you from having firearms for some period of time. It’s usually about a year. So if a person is suicidal for example, then a loved one or a law enforcement officer can bring this to a civil court and say, “This person, my husband, is suicidal. This is the evidence.” And a judge will see if it meets statutory standards, if there’s enough evidence. And the person gets to be there, gets to argue against it.
Often, people stipulate to it or they agree that the Extreme Risk Protection Order should be in place, and then they won’t be allowed to have firearms for that year, and law enforcement will come and remove the guns that they already have. So that’s an example of a firearm restriction for people who are unsafe to have guns.
Katy Hunter: These are great points. In terms of funding, many of those listening might not know that the STOP School Violence program is a line item on the Congressional budget, and that gets renegotiated every year. To explore further into Extreme Risk Protection Orders, how might that order work in a K-12 setting? How do Extreme Risk Protection Orders fit into school safety?
April Zeoli: Yeah. So this is a little more of a complicated question because it really depends on the state Extreme Risk Protection Order law, but there are a couple of different scenarios I can walk through. One study that I did recently was looking at threats of multiple victim and mass shootings, and when those threats were part of an Extreme Risk Protection Order petition.
So this scenario is, somebody makes a threat in some way. Maybe it’s just a written down plan, maybe they post it on social media, maybe they tell one other person or a lot of other people that they’re going to do this, they’re going to commit a multiple victim or mass shooting. So I did this study and I did it in six states, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, and Washington. And we found that 10% of Extreme Risk Protection Order petitions were for multiple victim and mass shooting threats. And just to kind of put this in a little bit of context, we looked at over 6700 petitions. So this was, it was 662 cases of multiple victim mass shooting threats. And about 20% of those threats were directed at K-12 schools. And a lot of those threats that were directed at K-12 schools had people who attended K-12 schools making them. Some weren’t, some were absolutely older, but minors did make quite a few of these threats, unfortunately. So when others heard about these threats, they were able to go to the police, and police were able to use Extreme Risk Protection Orders.
Now, I mentioned it depends on the state. Washington State is the only state that specifically says something about minors and that they can have Extreme Risk Protection Orders in their state law. In Florida, it doesn’t specifically say anything in the law, but they’re using it for minors. So what that looks like often, since minors don’t have their own guns, it’s their parents’ or guardian’s guns or somebody who lives in their household, law enforcement will go, obviously they’re gonna involve the parents regardless, but they’ll talk to the parents about making sure the youth can’t access a gun. So if the parents have a gun, is it locked up? Is it locked up in a way they are absolutely sure the child can’t access. And so is it going to work and is it gonna make sure that the kid can’t access the gun?
So there are also youth who are suicidal. This isn’t just about school shootings. And we know that suicide risk peaks in adolescence before it goes down and peaks again in elder adulthood. So kids who are suicidal, who have access to guns, you may need the protection that an Extreme Risk Protection Order can provide.
And I definitely think that K-12 instructors, teachers, they see the signs in their kids. They’re with these kids all day, all week. And while no one really wants to be the person to call the police or call mental health services about a kid, really no one wants to be that person, but sometimes it is absolutely necessary to save their life. And it’s better to save their life, than to avoid being that person.
Katy Hunter: Yeah, I think that’s really important for folks to hear. Many of the folks we work with are putting new systems and programs into place to help kids, but that takes a lot of time, energy and resources that might not be easily available yet. So Extreme Risk Protection Orders could be important as another option.
April Zeoli: And I think it’s really important to just emphasize again that Extreme Risk Protection Orders are civil court orders. That teen is not going to have a criminal record because of this Extreme Risk Protection Order. They’re not. So don’t worry about starting a criminal record. It’s a civil court order specifically so it can be lifesaving and not detrimental to that person’s life.
Katy Hunter: Thank you for coming on and talking with us. If anyone listening is curious about learning more, where would you recommend they go?
April Zeoli: I would go to the Institute for Firearm Injury Preventions website. Again, it’s part of U of M, and that website is firearminjury.umich.edu.
Katy Hunter: In the next episode of Progress Report:
Libby Messman: An anonymous reporting system is a way for students, teachers and community members to report concerns about someone or themselves or report threats of violence. I also think it’s really important that we focus on the community as well, because we know that school violence isn’t limited to the school building. There’s a lot of spillover between community and school violence.
Brent Miller: Thank you for tuning into this episode. For more information about the National Center for School Safety, visit our website nc2s.org. You can also check us out on Twitter and Facebook. This episode of Progress Report was produced by the National Center for School Safety at the University of Michigan. Additional resources and information can be found in the show notes, and music is thanks to Makaih Beats. This project was supported by Cooperative Agreement number 2019-YS-BX-K001, awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the US Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the US Department of Justice.