The color of risk protection orders: gun violence, gun laws, and racial justice.
BACKGROUND: Extreme risk protection order (ERPO) laws give municipal police officers new authority, through a civil restraining order, to remove firearms from people who are deemed to pose an imminent risk of causing serious harm to others or themselves. Despite the expected public safety benefit of ERPOs, it is possible that implicit racial bias could infect ERPO petitions, the court processes that authorize and extend the gun removal orders, or the behavior of the police in serving and enforcing them. How might potential racial disparities in ERPO implementation qualify the evidence that this intervention saves lives? What should gun violence prevention researchers and stakeholders do to promote racial justice? MAIN TEXT: This commentary reflects upon an innovative and promising legal tool for gun violence prevention through the lens of racial justice concerns. Emerging research, guided by a public health paradigm, asks whether ERPOs save lives. But now is the time to pose other important questions as well. Preventing gun violence and mitigating the disproportionate impact of arrests and incarceration in communities of color are two important goals that may collide. The origin story of many U.S. firearm restrictions, and the continuing disparities in their enforcement and implementation, are intertwined with the legacy of systemic racial discrimination in policing and criminal justice in the United States. The public policy challenge of balancing risk and rights is increasingly fraught, especially as constituencies with a different interest in one or the other concern find themselves standing on opposite sides of a privilege chasm. CONCLUSION: Saving lives from gun violence matters, but ensuring that the lives saved are also respected--free from racial oppression, afforded equal justice--also matters. This commentary is a call to include racial disparities impact as an essential outcome of interest for ERPO studies specifically, but more broadly for all public health law research studies at the intersection of firearm injury prevention, law enforcement, and criminal justice.
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