TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Richard Codey and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg that would establish a process and procedures for obtaining an extreme risk protective order (ERPO) against persons who pose a significant danger or bodily injury to themselves or others by possessing or purchasing a firearm was passed out of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee today.
“This is a common-sense approach to safety that we should all be able to support,” said Senator Codey (D-Essex/Morris). “We worked on the same thing with regards to mental illness in 2009. This gives families the ability not just to help protect society and themselves, but also the loved ones they are concerned about.”
“As we have seen in too many cases, individuals who are exhibiting clear signs of mental illness have been able to obtain firearms legally,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “How many times do we have to hear ‘he or she talked about doing harm to themselves’ after a suicide or ‘he said he wanted to shoot up an office or school’ after another horrible mass shooting before we craft laws that give family members and law enforcement a mechanism to get firearms out of the hands of someone who might be a danger to himself or others. This law protects not just potential victims of a shooter, but the life of that shooter, as well.”
The bill, S-2259, would allow a family or household member or law enforcement official (petitioner) to apply for the ERPO. The first step in the process would be filing for a temporary ERPO in Superior Court or at any state, county or municipal law enforcement agency in the county where the petitioner or the subject lives. There would be no fee to file a petition and the request would be heard by the Superior Court “in an expedited manner.”
A judge would issue the temporary ERPO if the court found good cause to believe that the respondent posed an immediate and present danger of causing bodily injury to the respondent or others by having custody or control of, owning, possessing, purchasing, or receiving a firearm. The temporary ERPO would be in effect until a court issued a further order.
The temporary ERPO also would prohibit the subject from having, purchasing or receiving ammunition, from securing or holding a firearms purchaser identification card or permit to purchase a handgun during the period the protective order was in effect. The subject would have to surrender firearms, ammunition, and firearm permits and licenses in his or her custody to local enforcement.
Under this bill, the court would consider the subject’s history of violent acts or threats or threatened use of physical force, previous threats, use of threatened use of physical force, previous convictions or recent violations of orders for certain offenses, and a history of drug and/or alcohol abuse in determining whether to issue the ERPO.
Within ten days of filing in Superior Court, a hearing would be held to determine if a one-year long ERPO should be issued. At that hearing, the same factors considered for a temporary ERPO would apply. If the ERPO is issued, the subject would be required to surrender firearms, ammunition, as well as the identification card or permits.
The bill would allow the court to issue a search warrant for firearm(s) or ammunition not surrendered if an individual served an ERPO was not believed to have surrendered those articles.
Within thirty days of the ERPO’s expiration, the subject could petition the local law enforcement agency for the return of the surrendered firearm(s) and ammunition.
Under the bill, the subject of an ERPO can file a petition to the court and have a hearing to have the ERPO terminated.
Violation of the ERPO would result in arrest and would be classified as a crime of the fourth degree, punishable by imprisonment for up to 18 months, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. The subject of an ERPO who acquires a firearm(s) or ammunition would be guilty of a crime in the third degree, punishable by a term of imprisonment of three to five years, a fine of up to $15,000, or both.
The bill would also establish a process for an ERPO filed against law enforcement officials. The ERPO would be required to be filed in the law enforcement agency where the subject is employed. An internal affairs investigation also must be completed upon receipt of the petition and the findings of that investigation served upon the county prosecutor.
Washington, California, Connecticut and Oregon have ERPO laws. Indiana and Texas have modified risk warrant statutes. Eighty percent of people considering suicide show some sign of their intentions and 38 out of the 62 mass shooters in the last 20 years were reported as displaying signs of dangerous mental health problems prior to the killings.
The bill was passed out of committee by a vote of 4-0-1 and now moves to the full Senate for its consideration.