After the recent mass shootings, there is one gun control measure that is garnering bipartisan support: extreme risk protection orders (ERPO), more commonly referred to as "red flag" laws.  Advocates emphasize that red flag laws can also help reduce suicide rates. 

Seventeen states, including Washington, have already implemented such laws. ERPO laws allow family members and law enforcement to ask a state court judge to issue an order that confiscates the guns of an individual who they believe poses a threat to their safety. An ERPO also prohibits the person from   accessing, receiving, purchasing, possessing or having control of firearms. The ERPO prohibits the person from obtaining a concealed pistol license and orders them to surrender a license if they already have one. An ERPO is different than a domestic violence protection order because an ERPO cannot restrain the respondent from contacting a person nor can it order the respondent to stay away from any person or place. 

Who Can Seek An ERPO?

ERPO petitioners must present evidence to the court on why the individual poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to self or others in the near future by having firearms. Factors that demonstrate such a risk can include threatening or violent behavior, threats of self-harm, and abuse of drugs or alcohol. In Washington, family members who can seek an ERPO order include persons related by blood, marriage, or adoption, dating partners, persons who have a child in common, persons who reside or have resided with the respondent within the past year, domestic partners, persons who have a biological or legal parent-child relationship, including stepparents and stepchildren, grandparents and grandchildren, and a person who is acting or has acted as the respondent’s legal guardian.  

In an article published a year ago, it was reported that in Seattle, Washington, a regional firearms enforcement unit has recovered 200 firearms from 48 ERPO orders. The article highlights advice from the program manager and the senior prosecutor for the King County Regional firearms unit. They advise persons who may want to consider requesting an ERPO when people are in a mental health crisis or exhibiting an escalation in violent behavior, fixation or fascination with weapons, or threats of suicidal ideation. 

The Process for Protection Orders in Washington

A two-step process requires that a petition be filed on the forms provided by the Court, and a hearing is set that day. The petitioner must present evidence such as their own testimony and documentation from social media posts, email, and texts. Once the ex-parte or emergency order is signed, it is served on the respondent by law enforcement, who are authorized to seize weapons. A second hearing is scheduled in two weeks, to allow the respondent to be heard. If a judge grants the ERPO at the full hearing the person loses their gun rights for one year.  The order is filed into the national NICS system to prevent any firearms purchase. The Seattle Firearms program manager explained that after that year, they don’t just get their guns back without an additional process that allows the petitioner to ask for an extension.

Seattle, Washington Family Law Attorneys are Here To Help with Protection Orders

The Court forms allow petitioners to seek an ERPO without a lawyer.  However, the Seattle family law attorneys at Molly B. Kenny, LLC, can help you decide whether your best path is seeking an ERPO or a domestic violence protection order.  If you need to protect your family from gun violence, the lawyers at Molly B. Kenny, LLC can be retained to complete the forms and be by your side throughout the process. 

Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington
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