MARYSVILLE – A law that allows law enforcement to take guns away from someone who may be a threat to themselves or others was used for the first time recently by the Marysville Police Department.
The law, called Extreme Risk Protection Orders, was passed by voters in 2016 through Initiative 1491 with about 70 percent approval. It went into effect last year. Only four other states have such a law, which pro-gun advocates find controversial.
The ERPO allows police or family or others living with a person who is talking about killing people, suicide or suffering a mental crisis to ask courts to temporarily remove someone’s gun rights – even if they haven’t committed a crime.
In this recent case, Marysville police Cmdr. Mark Thomas said he knows the man and has had coffee with him previously. He has no history of mental illness.
Thomas said he is thankful the family came forward.
“They reached out to us,” he said. “They had different emotions as it’s a crisis for their family. But they were concerned about the safety of others.”
Thomas explained the situation about why the law was used recently. He said:
A few weeks ago police received a 9-1-1 call from a wife saying her husband was acting paranoid and having a breakdown. When police arrived they were told he thought he was being watched by the government and possibly poisoned. Police tried to contact him for about an hour. They saw through a window that he had an AR-15 and a gas mask. Police pulled back to see if he would calm down. He was not threatening anyone, nor had he committed a crime. His firearms were legal, and he had a concealed weapons permit.
His family called the next day and said he had rented two rooms at the Tulalip Casino Resort. He had some firearms and was agitated.
“The family was up all night” worrying about him, Thomas said. After contacting Tulalip police, MPD was told the man wasn’t at the casino-resort. Thomas said the man never stayed there, but booked the rooms for his family to be safe.
The man’s daughter tracked his phone to a friend’s house in Seattle. When police arrived, he had a loaded firearm. Police confiscated the gun and took him into custody.
He was involuntarily committed to a hospital for a 72-hour mental health evaluation. That hold has since been extended.
The family gave police permission to search their house, where 11 other firearms were found, some of which were hidden. Police took the guns for safekeeping.
Thomas said people don’t have to call police or a prosecutor for an ERPO. They can get forms online at www.courts.wa.gov/forms, check off the boxes, and it will be taken care of.
Thomas said he’s glad for an extension on the man’s hold. He said he’s glad they have more time because there is no case law on this.
“It’s our first go at it,” he said. “We’re not under the clock.”
In two weeks there will be a hearing. If the ERPO is supported by a judge, law enforcement can keep the guns for up to a year. But if a respondent undergoes treatment he or she can file an appeal to get their property back sooner.