On Feb. 14, a man used an AR-15 rifle to kill 17 teens and adults at a Parkland, Fla., high school. That fact is shocking, but after so many mass shootings in recent years, it is sadly not surprising.
Americans are killed every day with guns at rates many times higher than virtually any other country not at war. No one policy change would prevent every one of these deaths. But we could certainly prevent some of them.
Gun violence protective orders (GVPOs) are one promising policy that has received renewed attention in the wake of the Parkland shootings. Also known as extreme risk protection orders, GVPOs allow family and household members, as well as law enforcement officers, to petition a civil court to temporarily restrict an individual’s access to guns when that individual poses a significant danger to self or others.
In our work as criminal justice professionals, we are often the first to see the warning signs that a tragedy may be imminent. GVPOs are designed to provide safe and effective options for law enforcement — working with an individual’s family members and partners — to prevent gun tragedies before they occur.
GVPOs are similar to court orders already used in Minnesota domestic violence and harassment cases. As with those orders, the procedure protects the rights of the individual involved.
A GVPO is focused on concrete evidence and past actions, including the individual’s history of violence or threats. It is based on sworn evidence, with criminal penalties for false statements. And it is temporary, lasting no more than 14 days in an emergency situation and no more than two years after a hearing.
To ensure due process protections are in place, the bills we have authored, which the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association supports, provide for a hearing where the individual could challenge the order in court no later than two weeks after the GVPO is issued. There’s also a provision that would allow, if certain criteria are met, for respondents to participate in supervised sporting or recreational activities.
GVPOs are a proven tool. They are working in five states — California, Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon and Washington — with many other states considering adopting them.
The Parkland shooter apparently displayed multiple warning signs in the days, months and years before the shooting. Students, teachers and his own family reported that his behavior was frightening and threatening. If Florida had had a GVPO law, it could have been used to limit the young man’s access to firearms before it was too late.
On a near-daily basis in our state, police chiefs are approving permits to purchase a firearm for people their own officers have dealt with and — in some cases — placed on an involuntary hold. Many chiefs have been in the uncomfortable position of having family members request that guns be removed from their homes following a violent incident out of fear for their own safety. Despite such requests, current law demands that guns be returned to the person for lack of a qualifying, legal reason to hold them.
We urge the Minnesota House and Senate to finally have the long-overdue debate on GVPO.
In other states, tragic mass shootings have prompted change. Minnesota has experienced its own mass shootings. Why wait for another?
Jeff Potts is chief of police in Bloomington and vice president of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, is a member of the Minnesota Senate and a criminal defense attorney. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, is a member of the Minnesota House and a Ramsey County prosecutor.