Frequently Asked Questions

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What is an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO)?

An ERPO, short for Extreme Risk Protection Order, is issued against a person who has a license to possess or carry a gun, and who poses a risk of physically hurting themselves or others by having in their control, owning, or possessing a firearm, rifle, shotgun, machine gun, stun gun, or ammunition. This person is called the respondent. The respondent has the right to hire a lawyer to represent them at ERPO proceedings.

 

An ERPO is a civil court order, signed by a judge, and is an intervention to temporarily prohibit someone from owning or purchasing firearms or ammunition to decrease their risk or hurting themselves or others, giving families and law enforcement a tool for preventing violence and trauma. Additionally, while the ERPO is in effect, an individual can safely access services and care that may help alleviate the crisis and prevent potential violence.

Who can request an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO)?

A family or household member or the police department in the city or town where the respondent lives can file a petition. The person filing the petition is called the petitioner.

Who is considered a “family or household member” ?

A family or household member includes a person who:

 

•  Is or was engaged to or married to the respondent

•  Is or was living in the same household as the respondent

•  Is or was related by blood or marriage to the respondent

•  Has or is having a child with the respondent, regardless of whether they have ever been married or lived together

•  Is or has been in a serious dating relationship with the respondent

 

If you don’t qualify to file a petition or if you know that the respondent doesn’t have a license to possess or carry firearms, but you believe the respondent poses a risk to themselves or others by having firearms, rifles, shotguns, machine guns, stun guns, or ammunition, you should contact the police department in the city or town where the respondent lives.

What do you need to request an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO)?

A family or household member or the police department in the city or town where the respondent lives can file an ERPO petition. To request an ERPO, you must first fill out a Petition for Extreme Risk Protection Order (FS-1). You should provide as much information as possible about the specific statements, actions, or facts that show the respondent poses a risk of physically hurting themselves or others by having firearms, rifles, shotguns, machine guns, stun guns, or ammunition and a license to possess or carry guns. You should also provide as much information as possible about how many firearms the respondent has access to and where those firearms are. If necessary, provide any paperwork that will help the judge decide whether to issue an order.

 

In addition to the petition, you must also fill out the Petitioner Confidential Information Form (FS-2) and Respondent Information Form (FS-3). The information you provide on the Petitioner Confidential Information form will be used to provide notifications regarding any changes or modifications to the ERPO. It may also be provided to the police if they need more information to serve the order on the respondent. Otherwise, the information in the Petitioner Confidential Information form isn’t available to the public. Except for your home and work address, the information is also not given to the respondent, although you may ask the court to not give that address information to the respondent as well. If you have a good reason why any other information provided shouldn’t be available to the public, you must file a Motion for Impoundment.

 

All ERPO forms are also available in all District Court and Boston Municipal Court (BMC) clerk’s offices.

How do you file an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO)?

In person:

• If you’re asking for an order during court business hours — File a petition in the clerk’s office in the District Court location or BMC location for the city or town where the respondent lives.

 

• If you’re asking for an order during non-court business hours — Go to the police station in the city or town where the respondent lives and tell the police that you’d like to file a petition for an ERPO. If you can’t go to the police station in the city or town where the respondent lives, go to the closest police station.

 

It is important to keep in mind that ERPO is still relatively new in the Commonwealth and it is quite possible you may encounter court personnel that have not had much experience with it. If you are speaking with someone at court who is not fully familiar with ERPO and the mechanics of filing it, do not be discouraged. You have a right to seek this protection. It may be helpful to go with the Mass.gov ERPO webpage on the browser of your phone (if it is safe for you to do so), or with a printed copy of the ERPO FAQ’s page, so that you have something to reference if you are met with any confusion. You can always ask to speak with someone in the clerk’s office for more assistance if you need it.

How do you file an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) when the courts are closed?

Go to the police station in the city or town where the respondent lives and tell the police that you’d like to file a petition for an ERPO. If you can’t go to the police station in the city or town where the respondent lives, go to the closest police station.

 

For emergency orders (after court hours), a police officer will call an “on-call” judge and tell the judge that you’re asking for an emergency ERPO. The police officer will read your petition to the judge over the phone, or the judge may ask that you read the petition over the phone. The judge may also ask you questions.

 

If the judge issues an emergency ERPO, the order is temporary, and will only be in effect until the end of the next court day, when court closes for business at 4:30 p.m. You will need to appear in court before the temporary order expires to be able to extend it.

 

During court hours:
You’ll have to appear in front of a judge. You shouldn’t leave the courthouse until you’ve appeared in front of a judge and the judge has ruled on your petition. A judge may not review and rule on your petition unless you’re in the courthouse. If the judge allows your petition, an emergency ERPO will issue and will be in effect for up to 10 days. The judge will tell a law enforcement officer to serve a copy of the order on the respondent.

What happens after you file an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) with the court?

Even if the court issues an emergency order, the respondent is entitled to a hearing after notice.

 

If the judge issues an emergency order in court, the judge will schedule a hearing which the respondent has a right to be at with or without a lawyer. Even if the judge doesn’t issue an emergency order, but thinks that a hearing is necessary, they can still schedule a hearing with notice to the respondent. This hearing will happen within 10 days of filing of the petition.

 

You, and your lawyer, if you decide to be represented by one, should come to this hearing, regardless of whether the respondent comes to the hearing.

 

At this hearing, you must establish that it’s more likely than not that the respondent poses a risk of hurting themselves or others by controlling, owning or possessing a gun or ammunition.

How long does an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) last if it is issued by the judge?

If an ERPO is issued after a full hearing, it will be in effect for one year, or for less than one year as ordered by the judge. When an order is issued, the judge will give a specific date for when the order will expire.

Can an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) be changed after it is issued?

After a judge issues an ERPO, both you and the respondent have the right to ask the court to change, suspend, or terminate the order at any time. If either party makes such a request, the judge will hold a hearing. If the respondent makes the request, the clerk’s office will notify you. The court is also required to notify a petitioner 30 days before an order is set to expire.

Can an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) be renewed after it expires?

Yes.
If you want to renew the order, you must go to court on the date that the order is set to expire and fill out a new petition, checking the box that says that you’re asking that the order be renewed. If you don’t go to court on that date, the order will expire. If you can’t appear in court that day, you should call the clerk’s office and tell them that you can’t appear.

After an extreme risk protection order expires can a firearm license be reinstated?

After an ERPO is terminated or expires, a license to possess/carry firearms won’t be reinstated, and any surrendered items won’t be returned unless the police department where the respondent lives decides that the respondent is suitable to be licensed and to possess or carry firearms. For questions on the suitability process, please contact your local police department.

Why not use the term Red Flag Law?

As laws such as this have gained nationwide attention, many media outlets and policymakers have begun using the term “red flag laws” as a catch-all phrase for these orders. However, this term can mischaracterize the way these orders intervene to protect individuals while also stigmatizing individuals with mental health disabilities. This mischaracterization both undermines the effectiveness of these laws and reinforces the false concept that people with mental health issues are more inclined towards violence when they are in fact more likely to be victims of violence (as shown in numerous studies). Groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, and others also oppose the use of this term. For this reason, we encourage using the term adopted by the Commonwealth to describe our law – the Extreme Risk Protection Order.