A lot of times, when individuals kill themselves or go on a killing spree, the people closest to them suspected something bad was going on.
Yet the person was allowed to gather up the weapon or weapons they needed either to commit suicide or to commit a crime against others. And no one had any legal recourse to interfere with their plans.
A bill making its way through the state Legislature might give spouses, other family members and friends some recourse in preventing this violence.
The bill pending in the state Legislature (A8976/S7133) would create a new court-issued order of protection called an Extreme Risk Protection Order. It would prohibit a person from purchasing, possessing or attempting to purchase or possess a firearm, rifle or shotgun. It also would require the individual to surrender any guns to law enforcement while under the order.
The idea is to temporarily remove an individual’s access to guns while that person is in a mental state in which they could do harm to themselves or others.
A 2016 study by a Duke University School of Medicine psychiatry professor found that gun removals from high-risk people in Connecticut —which has a law similar to the one under consideration in New York — may have prevented up to 100 suicides since 2013.
Several other states, including California, Washington and Indiana, already have such laws, and about a dozen other states are considering them.
We know what you’re thinking: This is just another step down the slippery slope of taking away everyone’s guns and depriving Americans of their Second Amendment rights.
But in reality, this bill is designed to do exactly the opposite.
Instead of a general law restricting access to guns by responsible, law-abiding citizens, the Extreme Risk Protection Order specifically focuses only on individuals at high risk of using guns to do harm.
Under this bill, the individual’s rights would be protected through a process that involves court hearings and followups. A petitioner would have to prove to a judge by “clear and convincing evidence” that the person is likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to himself or others before the order is issued. The individual could appeal the ruling and make one request for a new hearing during the suspension period to prove a change in circumstances.
Once the protection orders expire within a year, the individuals get their guns back and the records are sealed.
This bill won’t prevent all suicides or mass shootings. But it could give family members, friends and citizens a new tool to help prevent a tragedy.
The court process in the bill protects the rights of all parties, and the protection order is limited only to when the person is most at risk of violence.
This is a common sense law with enough legal protections to balance a citizen’s right to bear arms with the right of potential victims to remain alive.