Following a shooting at Michigan State University that claimed three innocent lives, lawmakers in The Great Lake State began to consider changes in firearms policy in hopes of preventing another tragedy.

Earlier this month, the legislature passed—and Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law—Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) that allow Michiganders to seek the temporary removal of firearms from citizens they deem to be at-risk.

“We have heard too many times from those who knew a mass shooter who had expressed concern in advance about that mass shooter’s intentions,” Gov. Whitmer said at the bill signing. “With extreme risk protection orders, we have a mechanism to step in and save lives.”

Michigan is now the twenty-first state in the country to allow ERPOs, better known as “Red Flag Laws.”

In Missouri, where a recent shooting in Kansas City left one dead and twenty-two injured, lawmakers are moving in the opposite direction of Michigan by considering legislation to ban ERPOs.

The bill, called the “Anti-Red Flag Gun Seizure Act,” would state that any federal order of protection or other court order to confiscate firearms, gun accessories or ammunition from a “law-abiding” citizen is a violation of the person’s Second Amendment rights.

“We have the Second Amendment to protect the First Amendment and our right to due process,” said bill sponsor Sen. Denny Hoskins.

While both states experienced a high-profile tragedy, they approached the solution quite differently, which begs the question: Do Red Flag Laws work?

In November of 2019, John R. Lott, Crime Prevention Center, and Carlisle E. Moody, College of William and Mary – Department of Economics; Crime Prevention Research Center published a paper entitled, “Do Red Flag Laws Save Lives?” in hopes of answering that question.

According to the paper, the researchers focused on two states with a long history of Red Flag Laws, Connecticut (since 1999) and Indiana (since 2005), and used synthetic control analyses and differences analyses to determine if these laws reduced murder, homicide, firearm homicide, non-firearm homicide, deaths and injuries from multiple victim public shootings, suicide, firearm suicide, or non-firearm suicide.

According to Lott and Moody, the murder rate for both Connecticut and Indiana, started falling several years before the red flag law was passed. Thus, “The Red Flag Laws appear to have had little effect on the murder rate for either state.”

As it relates to suicide rates in the two states, the researchers have similar conclusions as to the efficacy of ERPOs.

“The suicide rate in Connecticut declined substantially in 1996, before the implementation of the ERPO law and rebounded shortly after. The suicide rate in Indiana has been rising since 1999. There is little difference between the outcomes for the actual and synthetic states, so the adjusted and unadjusted gaps are very close. There is no significant difference between the actual suicide rate and the synthetic control rate for either state.”

Given the data and research, Lott and Moody conclude that Overall, red flag laws have had no significant effect on either homicide or suicide…and have had no significant effect on deaths or injuries from mass public shootings.”

Lott and Moody are not the only researchers who have argued red flag laws will do little to save lives. I currently have an unpublished manuscript with some initial statistical results. Using a Generalized Synthetic Control model, I, too, found that red flag laws do little to reduce homicide or suicide.

A case study published by Pear et al. (2022) investigated the impact of ERPOs on gun violence in San Diego County. Like past research, the authors opted to utilize a synthetic control method on a sample of 28 California counties. San Diego was used as the treated unit because of the county’s prolific use of red flag warrants—the 27 counties chosen as controls were selected because they issued no or very few warrants. The authors focused on fatal and nonfatal firearm assault injuries and self-harm injuries and conclude that ERPOs were not associated with population-level rates of firearm violence in San Diego County.

Recent polling affirms that voters remain torn on this continuous issue. That means we can anticipate that ERPOs—and anti-Red Flag Law legislation—will continue to be debated as a solution for reducing gun death in State Capitols and in the court of public opinion for years to come.