Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) Study
In June 2022, Congress passed and President Biden signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was the first major gun reform legislation in decades. Among provisions addressing mental health and school safety, the bill made a number of reforms to the current process for the purchase and access of a firearm. Within this area were incentives for states to develop and implement extreme risk protection order programs (ERPOs).
This bipartisan bill generated a new, national focus on extreme risk protection orders. The Ad Council and The Joyce Foundation recognize this focus as an opportunity to raise awareness related to these laws among both gun owners and non-gun owners in the 211 states and Washington, D.C. with existing ERPOs, through research specifically designed to:
- Determine the public’s current level of awareness and understanding of ERPO laws.
- Understand the public’s attitudes towards ERPOs and the implementation of them, and if they change after learning more.
- Identify the best way(s) to educate and communicate about ERPOs to the general public.
Commissioned by The Joyce Foundation, the Ad Council Research Institute (ACRI) conducted a mixed-methods research study to understand current knowledge of and attitudes toward ERPOs by the general public and identify the most effective way(s) to discuss these laws. The findings in this report and accompanying toolkit provide a deeper look into ERPOs, how to effectively speak about these laws with the American public, and how to drive more awareness and understanding of ERPOs across the country.
1 At the time of this study, 19 states and Washington, D.C. had existing ERPO laws. Since the study began, two additional states have adopted such laws, bringing the total to 21. Though the study did not include a sample from the two latter states, recommendations and the accompanying toolkit should still be used with the public in these states.
Key Data Points
- The majority of respondents are aware of ERPOs; initial reaction toward the laws and their ability to keep people safe was positive.
Based on the law description, two-thirds (65%) of respondents claimed to be aware of ERPOs, with a third (30%) saying they’re familiar with them. Initially, respondents tended to see these laws in a positive light and support them as a means to keep people safe—though positivity for ERPOs waned somewhat as respondents moved through the survey (as is detailed in the report).
Highlighting specific situations (suicide, mass shootings) and how ERPOs prevent them (firearm removal) resonated with respondents—and it’s information that law enforcement wants to highlight to the public as well. Law enforcement officials also think it’s important to highlight that these are temporary laws, though a quarter of respondents dislike that factor—either because they want laws to be permanent (primarily non-gun owners) or because they’re concerned of the laws being misused/violating one’s rights (primarily gun owners).
- With more details on the implementation and impact of ERPOs, respondents had more questions and desired more specificity.
As January 2023 respondents continued through the survey to more detailed information on the ERPO process, implementation and impact, positive reactions began to wane.
Most respondents agree that ERPOs are part of a larger crisis response (67%) and see them as efforts to keep their communities safe (66%) from mass shootings (59%) and individuals safe from suicide (63%). However, while most say they’re open to using ERPOs in the future, there are some potential barriers or concerns among general population respondents, such as the law’s temporary nature or how it could be enforced.
While law enforcement is more positive about ERPOs, they recognize it’s hard to get the general public to believe it’s really only temporary. And while it does help the individual in crisis, there is concern that people could use it inappropriately (revenge) or that they’ll negatively impact someone’s future.
However, notably, respondents in the June 2023 survey remained positive even after learning more information, which signaled to the research team that more specificity is needed to fill in gaps and answer questions.
- Respondents need more information and resources to fully grasp the benefits of ERPOs.
As noted, overall sentiment toward ERPOs by respondents started out strong in the January 2023 survey, but positivity began to fade as they were told (and asked) more about the process, implementation and impact of ERPO laws. Thus to truly understand how ERPOs benefit the general public and the individuals on which they’re enacted, more information and resources will be critical.
Respondents recognize that additional information is needed across all areas of ERPOs (the overall process, when they can/should be used, the impact on an individual, etc.), a fact law enforcement feels even more strongly about. In addition to information about ERPOs, respondents would also find crisis resources helpful—such as who to contact, how to identify if an ERPO is needed and more.
(Download the accompanying toolkit for more information about educating the public on ERPO awareness, implementation, perceptions and more.)
In general, law enforcement officials don’t overwhelmingly think that ERPOs put too much responsibility on the general public. However, they are even more likely to say the public needs additional information on these laws, along with resources to help in a crisis situation.
- There is no general consensus on what these laws should be called.
- Currently, ERPOs are known by a variety of names depending on the state. From the survey, there is not yet a clear consensus—among general population respondents or within law enforcement—on an ideal name for these laws. However, wording like “crisis intervention” and “temporary” rose to the top for both groups.
- Respondents would trust many different people to learn more about, with law enforcement at the top– even among non-white racial groups.
- Respondents of the June 2023 survey identified many individuals/entities they’d trust, but law enforcement rose to the top, even among non-white racial groups. Federal government representatives, close friends and mental health professionals were also trusted, a finding that was consistent across state groupings. Mental health organizations and a local law enforcement office are the top trusted sources for ERPO information.
- When building new knowledge, the dominant message frame is one that offers clear concise and informative information about the ERPO process.
Message frame testing and validation in both the initial qualitative (October 2022) and initial quantitative (January 2023) phases left the research team with one definitive: More work is needed. Overall, the messages (particularly those tested in the initial quantitative survey) all performed similarly among general population respondents. Though none of the frames by themselves stood out as being overly informative, motivating or relevant, many key phrases and language in each was received positively by respondents.
Feedback on these frames pointed to a desire for additional, deeper information on the process of ERPO laws. This feedback was directly applied to the frames that were tested in the final qualitative (April 2023) and quantitative (June 2023) phases, providing the depth of information respondents were craving after earlier research phases.
(As with the rest of this report, only differences past a 5% margin of error can be reported. Overall, the research team saw little to no differences among demographics or key behavior groups from the general population.)