Washington’s ‘red flag’ law is just the first step

The rash of mass murders, including in Buffalo, NY, and Uvalde, Texas, are stark reminders that these attacks can happen anywhere. Over the past few years in Washington State, mass shooters have killed people at a Seattle coffee shop, a Marysville high school, and a Mukilteo party, to name a few.

Voters – who did through initiatives what lawmakers have sometimes lacked the will to do — should be proud of the common-sense restrictions Washington implemented in the wake of these senseless acts. Lawmakers have also acted.

Universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity magazines, and a ban on people under 21 buying a semi-automatic assault rifle are important safety measures that can make a difference, but it is still possible to do more.

For the sixth time in a row, the Democratic-controlled Legislature failed to enact an assault weapons ban this year. Lawmakers must also give extreme risk protection orders the kind of support that will help an already valuable tool. living up to its promise.

These orders – ERPOs and commonly known as “red flag” laws – allow law enforcement, or a family or household member, to ask a judge to restrict the possession or purchase of firearms. by a person who could pose a risk to themselves or to others.

Approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2016, these protective orders are useful for suicide and violence prevention, but remain underused, said Dr. Frederick Rivara, director of the weapon injury research program. in Fire and Policy at the University of Washington’s Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center. .

“In the studies we’ve done, not all law enforcement is necessarily aware of ERPOs,” Rivara said. “And families in rural counties just want to solve the problem for themselves, when these commands are there for that very purpose.”

More than two years after the law was implemented, researchers found that 237 orders had been filed in the state; 67 were about harming yourself, 86 about harming others, and 84 about harming yourself and others. At that time, of Washington’s 39 counties, 16 had not filed any ERPOs. About a year later, in 2020, the number of orders had risen to 521 statewide. A dozen counties have still not reported any use.

So far, only King County has put in place the kind of robust multi-agency coordination needed to implement and respond to protective orders.

“ERPOs need real-time triage and real-time response. This is not a normal situation that can just sit. Time does not improve these results,” said Sandra Shanahan, who heads the county attorney’s office. Regional unit for the fight against domestic violence against firearms.

Although King County is leading the way, resources are still limited and efforts to raise awareness of ERPOs are ongoing, officials said. Other challenges include making it easier for families to file protection orders and providing mental health services to those in crisis.

Lawmakers recently created the Office of Gun Safety and Violence Prevention to help address gun violence. Funding its grant program could help support King County and spread similar implementation efforts across the state, including rural communities that may be under-resourced.

While the federal government and other states stay frozen In the face of unnecessary bloodshed, Washington took decisive action to prevent gun violence. We have to keep moving forward.