Red flag laws allow police to remove guns from an owner if they pose a risk to themselves or others. After the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, eight states passed the laws, bringing the total of states that have them to 13.
Sgt. Eric Pisconski is in charge of the Seattle Police Department’s crisis response team, and has been dealing with the laws ever since the Washington legislature approved them in 2016.
Here & Now‘s Robin Young talks with Pisconski about why he supports the laws.
On the process of issuing Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) in order to restrict individuals believed to be potential threats from having guns
“We have done 36 [ERPOs] that we’ve petitioned for.
“Generally, the incidents come to our attention via a 911 call, whether it was an individual that might have been experiencing some suicidal ideation or concerns about behavior or possible threats, and specifically that there is a firearm involve.
“There are a couple of different ways to do it. It does have the caveat of what’s called an ex parte court order, which is an emergency court order, an injunction if you will, that we go to a court and say, ‘Hey, we think this is an immediate likelihood here. We think there’s some very serious concerns about this individual’s behavior associated with and around a firearm.’
“We would go to a court any time during court hours and be able to petition that immediately, and then we would do our best to get that served immediately after the order’s issued.”
On what police did before ERPOs existed to prevent at-risk people from having guns
“The ERPOs are a great tool for us to have now, but there were some other avenues. If they were convicted for a crime that was a violent felony that involved a firearm that would have been a domestic violence situation, incidents like that, upon conviction, it’s very common for people to lose their firearms eligibility.
“We had quite a few instances, where we would have an individual that expressed clear suicidality, had a firearm involved, officers showed up — dynamic situation — stabilized it, was able to send that individual up to the hospital and request a mental health evaluation, certainly secure that firearm under community care-taking laws and hold onto it.
“But prior to the ERPOs coming into effect, if that individual stayed in the hospital for say a couple, three days, maybe a day, and then the following week called us up and said, ‘I’d like my firearm back,’ legally, we had no standing to deny that return of a firearm.”
On critics like the National Rifle Association who allege that ERPOs violate the 2nd Amendment
“I think that we’re very careful in balancing the due process aspect of this entire ERPO process.
“If we as law enforcement felt that this was applicable and we petitioned for this ERPO and it was served on someone, they have a court date that’s two weeks later, and they have the opportunity to go before the judge and explain the situation, discuss what happened [and] what didn’t, make their case to why an ERPO should not be granted, and then ultimately, the judge gets to decide if that’s the case.
“We have had a few that we petitioned for, it was granted, and two weeks later at the court hearing, the court chose not to grant a full order. And that’s exactly how the due process should work.
“Just because someone is accused of or even charged with a particular crime, the due process has to kick in, and they get to have their day in court.”
On the public’s response to police-issued ERPOs, and how families of at-risk individuals petition for that individual’s firearms to be removed
“We’ve had a lot of positive support from the families. Especially those individuals where they’re experiencing some acute crisis and their suicidality presenting, many of those are generated as 911 calls by the family or loved ones. Those cases, we have had a really good support from family members — to include multiple occasions where we’ve had thank yous.
“There have only been a handful of families in Washington that have pursued these [ERPOs] directly. We have not had any specifically related to our unit. On two occasions, we tried to coach the family to go through it and petition for it. Ultimately, the feedback that we’ve gotten from a handful of families related to this is, they’re in a very delicate situation. They have a loved one who is experiencing some mental health crisis or some acute mental health issues. They’re engaging in suicidal behavior or dangerous behavior, and they have firearms.
“It’s created a very tenuous family dynamic within those units, and the feedback that we’ve gotten thus far from those family members is they didn’t want to have their name on the paperwork … We’re okay with that in the big picture. We’re OK with playing the heavy, if you will, in that situation, so that they can have that family structure in place. Because at the end of the day, that’s going to be the most important part of their healing process.
“We’re not looking to remove someone’s Second Amendment rights forever. We’re just advocating that, hey, during this particular time period, it’s probably the best idea to remove firearms from the equation. You’re going to need some help. You’re going to need some assistance. You’re going to need to get to a better place, and your family and your internal structure is going to be the best avenue for that.”
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