Originally published in The Hill
By SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CALIF.) AND MARA W. ELLIOTT
There is one point in the national conversation about gun violence that all Americans should agree on: Individuals who pose a serious threat to themselves or others should not have guns.
Too often we see the deadly consequences when those at risk of committing violence are given easy access to guns. Nearly 40,000 people die each year from gun violence, and on average guns kill seven children every day.
Before many incidents of gun violence, shooters display warning signs of impending violence. However, family and friends – those in the best position to recognize troubling signs – are too often powerless to stop it.
That’s why Congress must pass the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, Sen. Feinstein’s bill to help states enact laws that allow for extreme risk protection orders.
Extreme risk protection orders, often referred to as red flag laws, allow law enforcement and family members to petition courts to temporarily remove guns from dangerous individuals. These laws help save lives without treading on Second Amendment or due process rights.
The success of California’s law is proof of that.
In California these orders are called Gun Violence Restraining Orders, and San Diego is a perfect example of how such laws can be implemented successfully. In less than two years, San Diego has saved countless lives by removing guns, including assault weapons, from the hands of potential shooters.
These extreme risk protection orders have stopped violent spouses, ex-boyfriends and stalkers from possessing guns. They’ve stopped disgruntled individuals who have talked about shooting up a workplace, hospital or school. They even stopped a gunman who vowed to set a new mass shooting record.
It’s important to understand that extreme risk protection orders aren’t easy to obtain, nor should they be.
In California, prior to removing a gun, courts must be presented with clear and compelling evidence that defendants pose a serious threat to themselves or others. Defendants can contest the order, and a judge must balance a gun owner’s rights against the danger posed to the public.
The system works. In San Diego, the city attorney met with local gun-rights advocates and invited them to contact her with any instances of an unwarranted order being issued. To date, they have not identified a single case.
That is why the courts have repeatedly upheld extreme risk laws that already exist in 17 states and Washington, D.C. The courts have found that these laws resemble domestic violence restraining orders, which have also withstood constitutional scrutiny.
Now Congress has an opportunity to help states without extreme risk laws follow California’s lead.
The Extreme Risk Protection Order Act would allow states to use federal funds to develop similar laws. It wouldn’t dictate what laws states implement. Instead, it would help state lawmakers write laws tailored to their unique circumstances.
The bill is still waiting for a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate. In the House, a similar measure was approved in September by the Judiciary Committee.
Critics of the bill portray gun violence as random, unforeseeable and unstoppable. Following each mass shooting, however, we’re reminded that simply isn’t the case. The warning signs are often there, we just have to be willing and able to act on them.
Passing the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act would help states respond to situations where a dangerous person should not have access to a gun. It will also help us better understand the causes of gun violence and how to better protect our communities.
Most importantly, it will save lives.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein is the sponsor of the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Mara W. Elliott is the San Diego City Attorney; her office is training California law enforcement agencies on the use of Gun Violence Restraining Orders.