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Understanding ERPOs and Washington’s red flag law

On Behalf of | Dec 8, 2022 | Victims of Violent Crime

There’s been a lot of talk about “red flag laws” in the national media lately. Here in Washington, we have such a law thanks to voters who overwhelmingly approved it when lawmakers failed. It’s known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) law.  

An ERPO allows relatives and others with a relationship to someone who’s engaging in disturbing behavior or making statements that indicate they could be a danger to themselves or others to petition the court for an ERPO. It allows police to seize a person’s guns for a year.  

The ERPO law does not guarantee that firearms will be removed from those who intend to do harm. Two hearings are involved, and a judge has to be convinced that the person with the firearm(s) poses an imminent danger.

Currently, the only county with a dedicated ERPO unit in its prosecutor’s office is King County. They help law enforcement agencies throughout Washington get and carry out ERPOs. 

An ERPO can be a “timeout” for people in crisis

King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg says that Washington is ahead of many states when it comes to red flag laws. He notes, “Quite often, in the aftermath of these mass shootings, there will be friends and family who will say yeah, we thought something was wrong. But nothing could be done. That’s not the case. You’re in Washington. Something can be done.” 

Satterberg also says that two-thirds of ERPOs are sought for those who have talked about suicide. Of course, as we’ve seen, mass shooters often end up taking their own lives after they’ve taken numerous others. He calls it a “timeout” to allow someone to get mental health treatment. It can also help potential victims – especially spouses and others close to the gun owner – to get out of a dangerous situation. 

As noted, the ERPO law can’t guarantee someone’s safety, even if they do everything within their power to seek help under it. It requires people in authority to approve it and carry it out. Even when firearms are seized, police may not get all of them. If you have been harmed or a loved one has been killed because an ERPO wasn’t approved or carried out properly, find out what your options are for seeking justice and compensation.