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How 'red flag' laws work in the DMV

The laws are meant to prevent firearm misuse

WASHINGTON — As the country continues to debate how to stop mass shootings like those in Buffalo, Uvalde, and Tulsa just in the past few weeks, some are pointing to red flag laws as a possible solution. Some states have already taken up the measures as Congress weighs the possibility of similar laws on a federal level.

 

THE QUESTION:

Are there red flag laws in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia?

 

THE SOURCES:

 

THE ANSWER:

Yes, the DMV has red flag laws, though most of the country has yet to do the same.

 

WHAT WE FOUND:

These red flag laws are a tool meant to keep tragedies from happening by keeping guns out of people’s hands–at least temporarily.

“It's really a way to try and disarm people who are plausibly at risk of misusing weapons,” said Timothy Lytton, professor at Georgia State College of Law.

People connected to a “potentially dangerous individual” can petition for what’s called an “extreme risk protection order,” which temporarily prevents that individual from owning or buying firearms and ammo.

Part of a wave of similar laws following the massacre at a Parkland, Florida Highschool that year, D.C. and Maryland laws have been around since 2018–Virginia’s went into effect in 2020.

“These laws vary a great deal from state to state in terms of who can seek the extreme risk protection order, however, all have due process protections for individuals whose guns are seized, so that they can get their firearms back in a timely manner,” said Dr. Jody Lyneé Madeira with Indiana University Bloomington Maurer School of Law.

RELATED: House panel taking up gun bill in wake of mass shootings

In DC:

The following concerned individuals can petition for an ERPO:

  • Family members

  • Guardians

  • Domestic Partners

  • Romantic Partners or Dates

  • Parent of a Child in Common

  • Roommates

  • Police Officers

  • Mental Health Professionals

District residents can file for an ERPO and then speak with the judge directly. During the COVID-19 public health emergency, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia began allowing for ERPO forms to be filled out electronically; contact the court to complete the filing by phone at (202) 879-0157 or by email at domesticviolencemanagement@dcsc.gov. Petitions can also be filed in person at: 

D.C. Superior Court
500 Indiana Ave. NW, Room 4510
Washington, DC 20001

Or

United Medical Center
1328 Southern Ave. SE, Room 311
Washington, DC 20032

For more information on petitioning for an ERPO in Washington D.C. click here. 

In Maryland:


The following concerned individuals can petition for an ERPO:

  • Spouse

  • Cohabitant

  • Relative by blood, marriage, or adoption

  • Person with child(ren) in common

  • Current dating or intimate partner

  • current or former legal guardian

  • Law enforcement officer

  • Medical professional who has examined the respondent (this includes a physician, psychologist, clinical social worker, licensed clinical professional counselor, clinical nurse specialist in psychiatric and mental health nursing, psychiatric nurse practitioner, licensed clinical marriage or family therapist, or health officer or designee of a health officer who has examined the individual)

In Maryland, any of the aforementioned people can file for an ERPO with the court directly by obtaining the proper forms. These forms can be found online and filed with the District Court. Visit mdcourts.gov/district/directories/commissionermap for commissioner locations and mdcourts.gov/district/directories/courtmap for court locations.

For more information on petitioning for an ERPO in Maryland, click here. 

In Virginia: 

The following concerned individuals can request an ERSO:

  • Family Members

  • Guardians

  • Domestic Partners

  • Romantic Partners or Dates

  • Parent of a Child in Common

  • Roommates

  • Police Officers

  • Mental Health Professionals

Fairfax County’s description of the law clarifies that while a range of people can request an emergency substantial risk order, the official petition for an ESRO before the court must come from a Commonwealth Attorney or a police officer. They advise contacting the local police department’s non-emergency line or calling or texting 911 in an emergency to begin the process.

For more information on requesting an ESRO in Virginia, click here. 

The laws in action

While the recent conversation has been connected to gun violence and mass-shootings, these red flag provisions can be enacted over concern for the individual’s safety, too. 

“One of the ways that the empirical literature has shown these events successful is in reducing firearm suicides, which are often impulsive actions," explained Jacob Charles, Executive Director of Duke University's Center for Firearms Law. "Removing those guns from a crisis situation can have a real effect on suicide rates."

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Some red flag law advocates say more people need to know about them, for the laws to be most effective–more law enforcement, health professionals, and families.

Like other legal cases, petitioners for “ERPO’s” or “ERSO’s” have to prove why the order is needed—and the person deemed “dangerous” gets their side, too.

“Oftentimes this is sort of what's called an ex parte order, it might be done quickly so that the firearms can be seized," said Madeira. "But very shortly after this ex parte order is issued, which does not require that the person actually be there who's going to be subject to the order, there's an opportunity for that person to say, 'well, no, there's, you know, some extenuating circumstances,' and present his or her side of the case."

Sometimes these orders are for two weeks, sometimes a year, which means the petitioner has to make their case for renewing that ban when its time is up.

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