- Practice Areas
- Family Law
- Criminal Defense
- View All+
Posted On April 7, 2020 Family Law
Recent mass shootings have prompted states to take preventive action and enact “Red Flag” laws, also known as an extreme risk protection order (ERPO). These laws are designed to keep guns out of the hands of people believed to pose a threat to themselves or others. As of now, 18 states and the District of Columbia have all passed red flag laws, and several other states are considering them.
A red flag law or ERPO is a legal tool that allows either the police or family members to petition a court to order the removal of firearms from someone who is at risk to themselves or others. Once evidence is submitted that the person is a danger, a judge can rule that the individual should be temporarily denied the right to possess a firearm. Law enforcement officials will then seize all of the subject’s firearms and hold them. Depending on the state, the initial orders usually last for 10-14 days, after which a long-term ban of between six months to a year can be imposed. The person is also not able to buy or sell guns during that period of time. As with nearly any issue, each state’s law can vary significantly.
Yes, Washington does have an ERPO law (Chapter 7.94 RCW), which can temporarily suspend an individual’s access to firearms. The individual will be served a petition for a Temporary ERPO, which will have a court date for a hearing. However, if a Temporary ERPO – Without Notice is served by a law enforcement officer, that means the individual must surrender any firearms immediately and until the hearing. Failing to appear in court allows the judge to extend the order for up to one year. Violating the order can result in criminal and civil penalties.
The petition can be filed by either a law enforcement officer or a family or household member, which includes:
(UPDATE: 19 states now have red flag laws)
Prior to the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, only five states had red flag laws. Now, 18 states and the District of Columbia have passed similar legislation, including:
In addition, red flag bills are being considered in Alaska, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
These laws are relatively new, and as a result there hasn’t been a great deal of research on their effectiveness, especially since mass shootings are rare. The studies that have been completed, however, suggest that red flag laws can reduce gun suicides. These make up 60 percent of the annual gun-related deaths, and more than a third of mass shooters kill themselves, according to a recent report from the FBI.
Additionally, the average shooter displays four to five observable and concerning behaviors over time and prior to a shooting, according to an FBI study. Red flag laws place power into the hands of family members and law enforcement to mitigate risks with less delay.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which can provide support to friends and family members that are concerned about a loved one.