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How Seattle is using ERPO laws to remove guns from at-risk people

(File, Associated Press)

When a gun owner is considered a threat, the Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) is a legal avenue to have their firearms removed. Seattle Police Sergeant Eric Pisconski is the person who shows up at gun owner’s door to seize those firearms.

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“We now have to go to someone’s house and knock on the door and say, ‘We’re from the government. Can we have your guns?’” Pisconski told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. “That can get very dangerous.”

Pisconski is the head of the Seattle Police Department’s crisis response team. The team is in charge of overseeing ERPOs.

By law, police and family members can apply for an ERPO through a judge. The person must be a danger to themselves or others. If granted, a person’s firearms are taken away.

ERPOs went into effect in June 2017.

ERPO in Seattle

Pisconski’s unit filters through crisis calls to assess if a person is at imminent risk to themselves or others. Officers also look for disproportionate use of 911 and for incidents involving firearms.

“It could be anything from specific threats, behavior that is associated and disturbing or unsettling in some manner,” Pisconski said. “Or it could be someone who is expressing suicidal ideation.”

“One specifically, we dealt with last week,” he said. “We had an individual that we previously petitioned for an ERPO. This was an individual who was experiencing some behavioral mental health associated issues and had indicated they owned a firearm …. we petitioned for an ERPO and had it granted.”

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The ERPO was delivered. The person agreed to hand over their guns at the time. A handgun and a shotgun were reportedly in that person’s possession. The person did not comply, however, which triggered the next step.

“We attempted multiple times to get the individual to fulfill that order of turning over their firearms,” Pisconski said. “And he refused multiple times. We were forced, at that point, to take the next step in the ERPO law which is petitioning for a search warrant to go in and enter their home and remove the firearms from them.”

Pisconski said that they are walking a fine line; they don’t want to criminalize mental health. So far, he says the program has worked well, but SPD is still in the midst of learning how to implement ERPOs. The first order will expire in July. That’s when they will have the full experience of dealing with them.

“It’s a good tool to have; applied correctly and having the opportunity to vet them very carefully,” he said.

“We’ve actually had three people, specifically, that when they came in for their court hearing … actually thank us in court for securing their firearms from them,” Pisconski said. “They acknowledged and recognized that it was probably not a good idea that they had access to firearms.”

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