Research Suggests Red Flag Laws Could Help Prevent Mass Shootings

Aug 19, 2019

New research shows that confiscating weapons from gun owners deemed at-risk for violence could help prevent mass shootings.

Researchers at the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program studied gun owners who had received extreme risk protection orders from 2016 to 2018 in California. Those orders temporarily remove owners’ guns if they are deemed to be a risk to themselves or others. Researchers looked at protection orders filed and the outcomes of those orders.

The research, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, found from 2016 to 2018, officials in California used ERPOs to confiscate weapons from individuals 14 times specifically in an effort to prevent mass shootings. Dr. Garen Wintemute, and emergency room physician and  director at the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program, says the orders are an important tool because mass shooters are rarely quiet about their plans.

“Eighty percent of them or so, either tell people that they’re going to commit a mass shooting or behave in a way that raises really serious concern,” he said.

In one case outlined by researchers, a 24-year old man threatened to kill employees of a business, his family and himself in a shooting or bombing. Police confiscated 26 firearms from the man, including two “assault-type” rifles and 18 semi-automatic pistols.

In another case a “close associate” of a man involved with a Syrian militant group connected to al-Qaeda was blocked from picking up an “AK-47 type rifle” he had purchased.

Recent shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, have led to renewed calls for Extreme Risk Protection Orders — or ERPOs. Even President Donald Trump, who ran on a platform of defending gun rights, has signaled support for such laws.

The authors of this new study stress that it’s impossible to know if violence would have occurred in the cases they studied, had the orders not been issued.

The fact that none of the individuals who received ERPOs went on to commit violence against themselves or others is an indicator these laws could be a powerful tool in preventing violent incidents.

Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.

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