Understanding Red Flag Laws

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. 

What are Red Flag Laws?

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. 

Does Washington Have an ERPO Law?

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. 

Who can ask for an ERPO in Washington?

The petition can be filed by either a law enforcement officer or a family or household member, which includes: 

  • a person related by blood, marriage, or adoption;
  • a dating partner;
  • a person who has a child in common with the individual;
  • a person who resides or has resided with the individual within the past year;
  • a domestic partner;
  • a biological or legal parent or child of the individual, including stepparents and stepchildren and grandparents and grandchildren, or;
  • a current or previous legal guardian.

Which Other States Have Red Flag Laws?

(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:  

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico (in effect on July 1, 2020)
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

In addition, red flag bills are being considered in Alaska, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Do ERPOs Save Lives?

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. 

Contact a Spokane Domestic Violence Attorney

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. 

For more information on Washington’s ERPO law, speak to a Spokane domestic violence lawyer at Twyford Law Office. We offer free consultations.

Call Now Button