In the wake of February’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the country has been enthralled in a debate over whether those who are classified as “mentally ill” should be allowed their right to firearms. In opposition to the Second Amendment, some states, including Washington, have even enacted laws that provide for “extreme risk protection orders,” which allow police, family members, and community members to petition the court to remove someone’s firearms — by force if necessary.
Seattle police have taken the dubious honor of being the first law enforcement agency in the state to put an extreme risk protection order, or “erpo,” into practice, forcibly confiscating the guns belonging to a Seattle resident without a warrant, arrest, or even criminal charges.
Never Mind Your Second Amendment
A man living in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle, who has not been identified by name, became the first victim of the new protection orders over the weekend when police confiscated his weapons after neighbors said he had been intimidating community members for months.
Neighbors told reporters that he stared at people through storefront windows while wearing a holstered firearm, though open carrying is legal in the locality.
Reports noted that restaurants and bars in the area were quite familiar with him and had made complaints to police, but it is unclear whether what these complaints entailed.
One resident from the same apartment complex, Tony Montana, seemed to lend credence to the idea that the man’s constant open carrying was a large part of the problem.
“He was roaming the hallways with a .25 caliber automatic,” Montana recalled, showing his apparent lack of knowledge of open carry laws. “And it created a lot of fear obviously because I didn’t know if he was coming after me or gonna just start shooting the place up.”
How Does an “Erpo” Work?
Some say that the extreme risk protection orders — also called “erpos” or “red flag laws,” which made the disarming of this Seattle man legal — could have stopped the school shooter in Florida, Nikolas Cruz.
Others have pointed out that Cruz had already displayed multiple red flags under existing laws that should have prevented his purchase of firearms; law enforcement and social workers from several agencies simply dropped the ball and failed to perform their duties.
But that doesn’t bother proponents of the “erpo” laws, which are now in effect in five states, including Washington, California, and Oregon.
“I’m very supportive of this law,” Montana told reporters. “It was an immediate crisis and law enforcement was able to remove his firearms, so it very well could have saved lives.”
Still, the bottom line is simple: though the man had never been arrested or charged with a crime, under this law, police forcibly removed his firearms earlier this month. And that’s unconstitutional.