Extreme Risk Protective Orders – H.3081

Massachusetts Bill Would Prevent Suicides

UPDATE: the hearing for this bill has been scheduled for Tuesday, July 18th at 1pm in State House Room A-1. Please join us to support this important bill. With 22 veterans and dozens of others committing suicide every day in America, we need to do more to address suicides. Read more about how this bill can prevent tragedies before they occur.

In many states—including Massachusetts—if you are worried about a family member’s mental state or they are making concerning comments about suicide or shooting others, there is not much you can do to prevent them from buying or possessing guns.

Background checks will not stop people in crisis from buying guns if they have not been hospitalized for lengthy mental health crises in the past. A 2016 Duke study in Florida found that almost two-thirds of gun suicide victims with severe mental illnesses would have passed a background check on the day of their suicide.

This is a huge hole in the system that needs to be filled: families and law enforcement need a tool to prevent these tragedies before they occur.

Enter extreme risk protective orders (ERPOs).

Laws in Connecticut, California, Indiana, and Washington have moved to change this reactionary model to gun safety, and Massachusetts could be next. H3081, introduced by Rep. David Linsky of Natick, would provide immediate help for such people at extreme risk for harming themselves or others by petitioning on-call judges at any hour of the day or night.

The process is similar to restraining orders, where petitioners must demonstrate why the gun owner is an extreme risk and the subject of the petition has their day in court to defend themselves. The orders are temporary—lasting for one year—but subjects can appeal to have their order lifted early.

Do Extreme Risk Protective Orders Work?

Research presented by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health firmly supports this concept. Nine out of ten people who survive a suicide attempt do not go on to die from suicide. But guns are far more deadly than other means: suicide attempts by cutting or ingesting drugs or poison succeed less than 2% of the time. If we can help people get through their moment of crisis alive, 90% of the time they will not end up taking their own life. According to Duke and Yale researchers, in over half the cases in Connecticut from 1999-2013, police were so concerned with the mental health of subjects upon serving the ERPO that they had them transported to emergency rooms for treatment.

This law is doing what it intended: pinpointing those at risk, helping them get treatment, and saving lives. These suicide prevention measures will not be able to save every life, but they certainly can save some. And to those families, that is everything.