Op-eds, Opinions

Fritschner ’06: Gun violence restraining orders are good

Op-Ed Contributor
Sunday, April 1, 2018

The actions of America’s students over the past two months aren’t just inspiring — they are everything.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of local, coordinated action in this moment, and Brown’s students have stepped up. This level of grassroots engagement is what gun reform advocates have needed for many years to make advances on this issue.

Stopping gun violence is something I work on professionally. My career working in Congress began Dec. 14, 2012, the day of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which colored everything that came afterwards for me. Even as I became a press staffer, I asked for and received exactly one legislative issue. I write, therefore, as the gun violence policy advisor to one of the most active members of Congress on that issue — Congressman Don Beyer D-VA— though I am speaking solely for myself today.

I want to respond to the piece “Guns are not a mental health issue,” which ran in the Brown Daily Herald last week on gun violence and mental health, by Julia Rock ’19 and Jenna Israel ’21.

Rock and Israel are exactly right that we need better gun laws. They are right that banning weapons of war and strengthening background checks are key objectives of that effort. Rock and Israel are also right to say that bringing up mental illness is a dodge employed by the National Rifle Association and its allies to avoid meaningful conversations about gun violence prevention. I was treated for clinical depression as an undergraduate at Brown 13 years ago, and consider myself a member of the community which comes under attack whenever people wrongly stigmatize mental illness in the wake of a mass shooting.

Instead of continuing to tolerate these diversion tactics, it is essential that we consider real policy solutions. In particular, I want to make the case for a key reform which Gov. Gina Raimondo has sought for Rhode Island in the aftermath of the shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Gun violence restraining orders, also referred to as extreme risk protection orders in some states, are a mechanism by which law enforcement and families can restrict access to guns for people who present a demonstrated threat to themselves or others. They have been touted by experts as a means to prevent mass shootings, especially ones where there were numerous warning signs like those exhibited before the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The executive order which Raimondo issued in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting endeavored to enact some aspects of GVROs. Though Raimondo can only do so much by executive order, this is a good first step. But to realize the benefits of GVROs, Rhode Island needs the legal and judicial mechanisms which can only be created by the passage of a law in the state legislature. Raimondo called for such a law at the end of her order, and a bill has been introduced by several state representatives. Florida became the sixth state to enact such a law a few weeks ago, and similar measures are nearing passage in New York, New Jersey, Illinois and elsewhere.

To return to the piece by Rock and Israel, I want to stress that the GVRO is a measure meant to reduce gun violence, not a mechanism to attack people of color or people with mental disorders.

As enacted in states like Connecticut, such orders may only be carried out after a judge issues a warrant on the basis of a sworn affidavit submitted by law enforcement or family members attesting to a specific, demonstrated threat of violence.

The fact that an order to remove guns is issued in response to a provable threat, and not merely to suspicions or the symptoms of mental illness, is key.

The mentally ill are many more times likely to be victims of gun violence than perpetrators, but most gun deaths in the United States are self-inflicted. Evidence shows that GVROs are crucial in protecting the severely mentally ill because they are particularly effective at preventing suicide by allowing families to remove access to guns from people in crisis.

Additionally, the fact that family members can seek GVROs helps to mitigate the threat that such measures might disproportionately impact people of color as a result of government action. And in fact, because people of color, particularly women, are at significantly elevated risks of being victims of gun violence, effective gun reforms like GVRO laws are valuable measures in protecting members of these communities.

GVROs are not a substitute for other gun reforms like the Assault Weapons Ban, introduced by fellow Brown alum Congressman David Cicilline ’83, D-R.I., who represents Providence in Congress, or laws requiring universal background checks; they are a complement to them. Cicilline is also a co-sponsor of the bill on which Beyer is a leader: the Gun Violence Restraining Order Act, which would help states adopt and implement GVRO laws. Sen. Jack Reed D-R.I. has pushed for a similar measure in the Senate.

Gun violence is a complex issue with many causes and no easy solution. There isn’t a single law that will prevent 30,000 deaths a year. But if an individual reform saves even one life it renders an immeasurable benefit. GVROs can save many lives, and several states have already begun the process of adopting these measures  — most recently, in Florida and California.

GVROs are a good step forward, and Rhode Island should enact them.

Aaron Fritschner ‘06 is a gun violence policy advisor to Congressman Don Beyer D-VA, and can be reached at Aaron.Fritschner@mail.house.gov. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.