Mental Health Colorado: “Extreme risk” legislation would save lives
DENVER, Feb. 14—Mental Health Colorado, the state’s leading advocate for the prevention and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders, today endorsed legislation that would allow for the temporary removal of firearms from a person who poses a significant risk to themselves or others. Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws have been shown to reduce suicide deaths in states that have them and this measure would be a vital addition to Colorado’s suicide prevention agenda.
Sponsored by Reps. Tom Sullivan and Alec Garnett, the bill creates a mechanism by which a family member or law enforcement officer may petition a court to prevent an at-risk person from possessing or acquiring a firearm. If a preponderance of the evidence shows the person poses a significant risk to themselves or others, a judge will then issue a 14-day order. During that period, a second hearing before a judge will determine whether a continuing ERPO lasting up to 364 days is warranted.
“This legislation strikes a critical balance between honoring due process rights and ensuring the safety of those in crisis and their loved ones,” said Nancy VanDeMark, interim president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado. “These laws save lives and the need in our state could not be more urgent.”
Colorado has the 10th highest suicide rate in the country and its firearm suicide rate is similarly higher than the national average. Evidence shows that between 85 and 90 percent of self-inflicted injuries by firearm prove fatal; half of Colorado’s 1,181 suicides in 2017 were by firearm.
The measure introduced today would add Colorado to the list of 13 other states that have some form of extreme risk laws on the books. In Connecticut, which implemented the first such law in 1999, researchers estimate that one life has been saved for every 10 to 20 risk warrants issued.
In cases where a continuing ERPO is issued, the yearlong period provides a critical opportunity for family members and law enforcement officials to connect individuals under the protection order with treatment services. Indeed, the Connecticut study showed that nearly one-third of individuals under risk orders received mental health or substance use disorder treatment as a result of the ERPO intervention.