How WA Uses Court Orders to Seize Firearms

Washington is one of five states with “extreme risk protection orders” that allow police to take guns from people who are feared dangerous. Seattle invokes the statute once every three weeks.

More than 70 percent of Washington state voters in 2016 passed an initiative that allows people to ask courts for an extreme risk protection order (ERPO) to take away firearms from a loved one they fear is a danger to themselves or to others, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Prosecutors, academics, police officers, gun-control advocates, and public-health professionals say the orders could become an important national tool for preventing not only suicides but also mass shootings like the Valentine’s Day killings of 17 people at a Parkland, Fl. high school. “ERPOs are an effective strategy in concert with other common-sense measures, like background checks combined with the reasonable oversight of the sale and the carrying of guns,” says Jonathan Metzl of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. “There’s no one thing that’s going to stop gun deaths. But I think the more of these common-sense measures we have, the fewer gun deaths we’ll have.”

Five states have ERPO laws – sometimes called gun-violence restraining orders – modeled after a 1999 Connecticut law. They have not run afoul of the Second Amendment because the court-ordered confiscations are temporary and a petition can be filed to keep the weapons. Sgt. Eric Pisconski of the Seattle Police Department says his Crisis Response Unit filed its first ERPO petition in July and has averaged about one every three weeks for 13 to date. “We get about 10,000 crisis calls a year. We can’t follow up on everything,” Pisconski says. His team of five officers and one mental-health professional focuses on cases in which it suspects someone with mental-health troubles has access to firearms or is trying to get a gun. They methodically plan encounters and always take a tactical approach.