On October 1, 2018, a new law regarding gun safety went into effect here in Maryland. Building on existing domestic violence laws but called extreme risk protective orders (ERPOs), it aims to temporarily prohibit people’s access to firearms when it’s determined they’re a danger to others or themselves. Many other states have enacted similar laws, but Maryland’s is quite broad in comparison.
The red flag law, formally titled “Public Safety – Extreme Risk Protective Orders,” is designed to fill in the gaps current gun control laws leave behind. These gaps can allow people who are dangerous or suicidal to have access to firearms when they haven’t committed or been convicted of any serious crimes – even if they are showing warning signs of violence. With the new law, district judges may temporarily prohibit a person from purchasing or possessing weapons if they determine the person is a danger to themselves or others.
Red flag laws in Fulton and throughout Maryland
ERPO laws allow families, household members, law enforcement, and certain health care and mental health workers to directly petition the court for an order to temporarily restrict a person’s access to guns. If the court finds evidence that the person is an immediate threat to themselves or others, they can prohibit them from possessing or purchasing weapons and ammunition.
They must then surrender their weapons to law enforcement, or the weapons and ammo will be seized and the person will be arrested for a misdemeanor. Within a few days or a week, a second hearing is held with the person present, where a decision will be made about whether or not they remain a danger to themselves or others.
It’s worth noting that Maryland is one of only six states whose ERPO laws also allows household members to seek these orders. And, as of 2018, Maryland is the only state to allow mental and other health professionals to do the same.
According to police chief Timothy Altomare, the state’s law is so broad that Anne Arundel County has expanded their storage space partly in anticipation of the number of weapons they’ll be taking in for temporary storage as a result.
The Gun Owners of America lobbying group criticized ERPO laws in a statement to CNN, saying, “No one should lose any of their rights without due process. Otherwise, people can make a false claim to get revenge or to disarm the person they’re stalking.” However, in order to prevent abuse of the law, most states have also made it a crime to file a knowingly false petition.
Why are red flag laws necessary?
According to the Giffords Law Center, 80% of people considering suicide give some sort of warning sign of their intentions, and 38 out of the 62 mass shooters in the last 20 years were reported as displaying signs of dangerous mental health problems prior to the killings.
Although several states already had red flag laws in effect, and more had them in legislature, ERPO laws were thrust into the spotlight with both the terribly tragic Parkland school shooting in February 2018, and then again with the Annapolis Capital Gazette shooting in June 2018.
These laws were originally designed to prevent suicides, as family members are often the first to see when a loved one is in distress. However, they have also been successful at preventing possible mass shootings. For example, Giffords Law Center reports on an incident in Vermont this past April. The day after they enacted their red flag laws, Vermont law enforcement obtained an ERPO against a teen who was planning a mass high school shooting. He even had a diary entitled “Journal of an Active Shooter,” which detailed plans for extensive casualties.
In the future we hope tragedies like the Capital Gazette shooting and others can be prevented as well.
The attorneys at McCabe Russell, PA want to ensure the safety of you and your loved ones. If you or someone you know are in danger, call the police immediately.
If you have any questions about red flag and ERPO laws, please contact us. Our Fulton legal team is here to help you. To speak with an experienced lawyer serving Howard County clients, please call 443-917-3347 or fill out our contact form. We also maintain offices in Columbia, Rockville and Bethesda.