Washington state officials are now demanding to include minors in the implementation of its Red Flag Laws, allowing the confiscation of firearms through a court order.
Kimberly Wyatt, a domestic violence prosecutor in King County, has a staunch belief that Red Flag Laws should cover juveniles.
“We would file the ERPO against the juvenile because the father has access to firearms in the home, and the father is not being cooperative with law enforcement to confirm that the firearms are out of the home.”
“We’ve had that issue come up multiple times, and we’ve been asked around the state by other law enforcement agencies that are struggling with the same issue. To date, I don’t know of any that have been filed yet against juveniles, but we have one particular case where we are making that recommendation to law enforcement right now.”
This new initiative was prompted by an incident regarding an eighteen-year-old charged with a crime — the father owned several firearms and refused to cooperate with police when asked to show where he hides his guns in the house.
Wyatt did specify that the ERPO would not take away the father’s rights to keep his guns.
“We’re trying to say, ‘Dad lawfully can possess those guns,’ and we would hope that most parents have given law enforcement reassurances where the firearms are. But in this particular case, the father has declined to give any of those reassurances. So we would say that the juvenile could not be in that home with access to firearms. If dad wants to keep the firearms in the home and not share the information, you know that puts him in a difficult position.”
If an ERPO was served to the child, the father has only two options — he has to either prove to law enforcement that his guns are nowhere inside the house (which also includes disclosing the locations of said guns) or have the child live elsewhere.
As of now, a judge is still unable to issue an Extreme Risk Protection Order, or ERPO against a minor — a fact that prosecutors are working to change.
ERPOs enable the local police force and close relations to apply for an order to seize all the guns of a person deemed (however unfairly) as a threat, to themselves or those who surround them — regardless of the absence of any crime committed. This fourteen-day order can progress to a one-year ban if the court is convinced that the person’s behavior qualifies him to be a risk to society.
The states of Florida, Vermont, Maryland, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Illinois enacted Red Flag Laws after the Parkland shooting early this year. Connecticut, Indiana, California, Washington, and Oregon already had Red Flag Laws prior to 2018.
Four more states are considering the application of Red Flag Laws as of recent times.
For the past few months, a task force made up of law enforcement, mental health experts, survivors of school shootings, and others have been talking about strategies that can be implemented to prevent the growing trend of mass shootings.
“There appears to be a legitimate question of whether or not ERPOs can be sought against a juvenile who does not have the legal right to own firearms under Washington law, but does have the right to access and possess firearms under certain circumstances.”
Wyatt is confident that ERPOs are successful, mentioning another case wherein an eighteen-year-old in Seattle was found to be carrying a backpack with a loaded gun with the safety off. The student had rumored drug issues, and the local police were permitted to search the backpack, alongside school officials.
Besides the criminal element of the gun possession, the student exhibited negligence in handling the firearm (the safety was off). This, in turn, made them file an ERPO against the eighteen-year-old, to guarantee that he will no longer be able to purchase guns legally.
The task force also added that a second violation of an Extreme Risk Protection Order should warrant a permanent loss of gun rights in Perpetuum.