Legislation to help families and law enforcement when someone is at extreme risk for committing violence against themselves or others was introduced today by Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle. Companion legislation will be introduced by Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma.
The legislation would allow family members and law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily remove a person’s access to firearms when there is documented evidence that there are at an extreme risk to harm themselves or others.
Under the legislation, Extreme Risk Protection Orders temporarily remove access to firearms for 14 days. A hearing is then held to evaluate the case and determine whether the Order should be continued. Those requesting a suspension of firearm access must provide sworn evidence and can be arrested for knowingly presenting false evidence.
A person experiencing a crisis can exhibit signs that alert family or community members to the potential for violence. But under current law, a person suffering from mental illness is not prohibited from purchasing and possessing a gun unless he or she has been formally and involuntarily committed for more than 14 days or has been found not guilty by reason of insanity.
There is clear evidence that many individuals who ultimately participate in shootings, including mass shootings, demonstrate their intentions beforehand. Eighty percent of individuals committing suicide give some indication of their intentions prior to making an attempt. Thirty eight out of 62 mass shooters in the last 20 years were reported as displaying signs of dangerous mental health problems prior to the killings.
California, Connecticut, and Indiana all have versions of this tool in place. California passed its version of Extreme Risk Protection Orders into law in 2014 following a University of California Santa Barbara shooting that claimed six lives.
The shooting was exactly the type of case that Extreme Risk Protection Orders were designed to prevent. Law enforcement had been unable to remove firearms possessed by a shooter despite demonstrations of extreme distress and threats of violence observed by the perpetrator’s family.
“The tragic shooting that claimed the life of my niece Veronika and five others last year occurred, in part, because neither the family of the perpetrator nor law enforcement had the tools to temporarily remove his access to firearms from a deeply disturbed individual,” said Jane Weiss, a Washington State resident and aunt of UC Santa Barbara shooting victim Veronika Weiss. “Washington State has taken an important step today in preventing tragedies like the one that claimed Veronika and so many others with the introduction of Extreme Risk Protection Orders. Extreme Risk Protection Orders will help families respond to signs that a family member is in distress, rather than leaving them powerless. This measure will save lives while protecting Second Amendment rights, and I urge the Legislature to swiftly take action to pass it into law.”
“Too often, families and law enforcement can see the signs of a tragedy coming,” said Frockt. “When people are in these crisis situations, the presence of a gun can be a dangerous factor in escalating a situation and somebody might do something in a moment that could change their life or the lives of others forever. Families and law enforcement should have the ability to intervene when they see these crisis situations and help keep everyone involved safe.”
“We’ve seen the unfortunate impact that a seriously mentally ill individual with a gun can have,” said Jinkins. “Along with more and better mental health care, we need to make sure that people in crisis can get the help they need to protect themselves and others. This bill will give families and law enforcement a needed tool to literally save lives by reducing the risk of violence both in the home and on our streets.”