Voters in Washington State have an unparalleled opportunity this month to cast a ballot that will save lives. Passing Initiative 1491 would give family members and law enforcement officials the chance to petition a court to remove firearms from individuals who pose a danger to themselves or others. Other states, including Connecticut and California, have similar laws, but Washington is the first state where voters have an opportunity to enact these orders at the ballot box.
Extreme Risk Protection Orders are a tool that families and law enforcement officials can use to suspend an individual’s access to firearms based on documented evidence. This evidence is presented to a judge who in turn has the choice, based on the evidence, to enact the order. The individual subject to the order must surrender his or her firearms to law enforcement and will be unable to sell, buy or possess other guns for a period of up to one year, as determined by the judge.
Passing Initiative 1491 will help make our communities safer by giving those most likely to spot a potential tragedy the opportunity to get help for those at risk. Mass shootings, like those at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle in 2006 and Seattle’s Cafe Racer in 2012, might have been prevented if family members and law enforcement had the ability to apply for an Extreme Risk Protection Order. However, it isn’t just mass shootings that could be stopped. Domestic violence shootings, suicides and individual family tragedies could be prevented if we vote yes for Initiative 1491 in November.
Marilyn Balcerak, Initiative 1491’s citizen sponsor, is painfully aware of the impact Extreme Risk Protection Orders may have on family tragedies. On June 7, 2015, Balcerak’s son, James, bought a gun at a local store, shot and killed his stepsister Brianne and then fatally shot himself. Balcerak and her longtime partner, Matt Smith, had tried to intervene multiple times to help James as he struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. They are confident that had an Extreme Risk Protection Order been available to them, it might have saved their children by deeming James a prohibited firearms purchaser.
Strong support for Initiative 1491 has come from groups across the state, including public health officials, mental health professionals, law enforcement, faith communities, domestic violence prevention organizations and gun violence survivors. Extreme Risk Protection Orders will make a difference in a wide variety of circumstances and empower family members and law enforcement to provide essential help to dangerous individuals or those in danger of harming themselves.
As the epidemic of gun violence grows in our nation, the people of Washington have a unique and powerful opportunity to do something. Voting yes on Initiative 1491 is a step toward a safer Washington.
Meredith Browand is a mother and activist living in Purdy.
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