Risk protection order expansion empowers family members to save lives
Connecticut was the first state in the country to pass a risk protection order that allows authorities to temporarily remove a firearm from someone in danger of harming themselves or others, saving countless lives during the past two decades as a result.
Some studies show a 14 percent reduction in the state’s firearm suicide rate since the law was enacted. But the best practices related to emergency risk protection orders (ERPO’s) have evolved over the past two decades. It is time to update Connecticut’s law to reflect these advances.
These updates are also more important than ever, as youth suicide becomes an increasing concern. Some studies have found that at least one in four teenagers and young adults have considered suicide. Firearms have also become the leading cause of death for children and young adults.
When my son Daniel was murdered in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, I lost a part of my soul that can never be replaced. My heart was forever broken. But there are actions we can take to prevent more families from the excruciating pain that comes with gun violence.
Since 1999, 18 states and the District of Columbia have followed in Connecticut’s footsteps; they have passed versions of risk protection laws. The majority of these allow family and household members to file petitions to temporarily separate an individual from a firearm.
This shift makes practical and necessary sense since these key individuals are best positioned to observe the warning signs that a loved one may be at risk of harming themselves or others. Currently, however, Connecticut does not take this life-saving approach. Rather, it only allows for members of law enforcement to act as the petitioner, creating a significant, although be it inadvertent, limitation on the opportunity to intervene.
Calling the surge in gun violence a public health crisis, President Joe Biden recently instructed the U.S. Department of Justice to craft a model ERPO law within the next two months. This is an important step forward, but I urge Connecticut lawmakers to expand our own law now before more lives are lost.
The shooter who murdered 10 people at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, in March was found playing with what a family member described as a “machine gun” just days before the rampage. Concerned family members initially tried to take the weapon away from him. If someone had removed the guns from the shooter at Sandy Hook, my son would still be with us today.
At Sandy Hook Promise, we believe gun violence is preventable, not inevitable. When we give people the tools to intervene — teaching the warning signs and how to get help — lives can be saved.
It’s too late for my son and hundreds of other children killed by gun violence. But there are actions that we can take now to further reduce the rates of gun violence and suicide in the state and protect our most vulnerable residents.
It is time to update Connecticut’s risk warrant law to empower families that can save lives. Let’s give them a powerful tool that takes a balanced approach to firearm ownership, the wellness of those with access to firearms, and public safety. Let’s ensure that when we see a potential tragedy in the making, we can take action to save lives.
Besides empowering families, the expansion also calls for changes to the appeal process for gun owners to ensure that their due process rights are protected. ERPOs are critical violence prevention tools and Connecticut is safer because of it. But we can do more.
I urge you to bring us one step closer to protecting all children in our state from gun violence. Please call your lawmaker today and demand they support HB 6355.
Mark Barden is co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise, and the father of Daniel who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy on December 14, 2012.
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