Public Awareness of and Personal Willingness to Use California's Extreme Risk Protection Order Law to Prevent Firearm-Related Harm

JAMA Health Forum. 2021 Jun 4;2(6):e210975. doi: 10.1001/jamahealthforum.2021.0975. eCollection 2021 Jun.


Importance: Extreme risk protection order (ERPO) laws temporarily suspend firearm and ammunition access by individuals whom a judge has deemed to be at substantial risk of harming themselves or others. Despite widespread recent adoption of these laws, use of ERPOs has been limited. Barriers to ERPO uptake remain unclear.

Objective: To assess public awareness and perceived appropriateness of and willingness to use ERPOs in various risk scenarios, and to identify reasons for being unwilling, overall and by firearm ownership status, to inform efforts to improve ERPO implementation.

Design setting and participants: This was a cross-sectional study using data from the 2020 California Safety and Wellbeing Survey, a statewide internet survey on firearm ownership and exposure to violence and its consequences, conducted from July 14 to July 27, 2020. Adult respondents were recruited from the Ipsos KnowledgePanel using probability-based sampling methods. Responses were weighted to be representative of the adult population of California.

Main outcomes and measures: Awareness and perceived appropriateness of gun violence restraining orders (GVROs; California's official term for ERPOs), willingness to use a GVRO for a family member at risk of harm, and reasons for being not at all willing to use a GVRO in 1 or more risk scenarios, overall and by firearm ownership status.

Results: Of the 5018 panel members invited, 2870 (57%) completed the survey. Of these respondents (mean [SD] age: 47.9 [16.9] years; 52.3% women; 41.9% White, 34.7% Latinx, 14.4% Asian, and 5.8% Black individuals), 65.6% (95% CI, 63.0%-68.1) had never heard of a GVRO or a red flag law. Firearm owners were significantly more likely (20.5%; 95% CI, 15.9%-26.0%) than nonowners who live with owners (6.1%; 95% CI, 3.7%-10.0%; P < .001) and nonowners (9.6%; 95% CI, 7.8%-11.6%; P < .001) to have heard of both a GVRO and a red flag law. After reading a brief description of California's GVRO law, 72.9% (95% CI, 70.2%-75.4%) to 78.4% (95% CI, 75.9%-80.8%) of respondents, depending on the risk scenario, indicated that GVROs were in general at least sometimes appropriate, while 73.2% (95% CI, 70.5%-75.6%) to 83.6% (95% CI, 81.2%-85.8%) said they would be somewhat or very willing to use a GVRO for a family member at risk of harm. Firearm owners reported the highest levels of GVRO appropriateness in 4 of 5 risk scenarios (depending on the scenario, 80.0% [95% CI, 73.6%-85.1%] to 85.6% [95% CI, 79.9%-89.8%]). Nonowners who live with owners reported the highest levels of personal willingness to use a GVRO (depending on the scenario, 83.7% [95% CI, 74.7%-90.0%] to 94.7% [95% CI, 86.2%-98.1%]). The most frequently cited reasons for being unwilling to use a GVRO were not knowing enough about GVROs (44.9%; 95% CI, 39.7%-50.3%), believing the risk scenarios are personal or family matters (26.6%; 95% CI, 22.2%-31.6%), and distrust that the system will be fair (23.1%; 95% CI, 19.1%-27.6%).

Conclusions and relevance: In this cross-sectional survey study, public awareness of GVROs was low, but perceived appropriateness of and willingness to use these tools at least some of the time was high. Foci for efforts to address barriers to GVRO use in California were identified; similar challenges likely exist in other jurisdictions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • California / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Firearms*
  • Gun Violence*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ownership