Despite all the best efforts to prepare for the future, it is likely that we will all face difficult situations as our loved ones age, particularly if they suffer from progressive memory loss or other disabilities. Those with decreased cognitive functioning and memory loss are far more likely to exercise poor judgment or fail to recognize the dangerous consequences of their actions. Combine this with access to guns, and you have a recipe for disaster for which no mechanism has been available for family members to prevent harm until it’s too late.
As some of us have experienced, it can be challenging to restrict a love one’s rights, such as taking away the car keys when driving becomes too dangerous. Guns present a similar challenge, but until recently, gun restrictions been largely ignored by the public. One family’s experience clearly outlines the risks which the legislature now wants to prevent. Dee Hill of Oregon lived at home with her aging husband, who had been diagnosed with dementia. It was clear he was no longer capable of understanding the risk associated with handling his guns. Despite being a retired sheriff with a lifelong commitment to gun safety, he accidently shot and critically wounded his wife, Dee. After numerous surgeries, Dee thankfully survived her harrowing experience, but this may not always be the case. This type of situation invariably raises the question: Can new laws help prevent gun-related deaths and injuries without overstepping one’s right to own guns?
Several states, including Washington, believe such laws are possible. The Washington State Legislature recently enacted the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act (“Act”). The Act offers a clear procedure to quickly and safely restrict access to guns when it can be adequately demonstrated that one or more individuals are in extreme danger. Note, the danger must exist specifically because of the presence of guns. At its core, the Act is focused on preventing gun related accidents. It also provides a window of opportunity to implement appropriate changes to our love one’s mental or physical health care needs in a safe and stable environment. This provides a way for legally imposed restrictions to be temporary. The Act does not modify or remove gun ownership, it merely restricts an individual from accessing them. To emphasize this, the legislature wrote into the text of the law a statement of its purpose, in part reading as follows:
“…it is the purpose and intent of the people to reduce gun deaths and injuries, while respecting constitutional rights, by providing a court procedure for family, household members, and law enforcement to obtain an order temporarily restricting a person’s access to firearms.”
How do you get an Extreme Risk Protection Order?
First, a petition & supporting documentation must be filed with the court by a family or certain other household members, or by law enforcement. You are allowed to retain an attorney, but it is not required. The petition must detail the circumstances why access to guns should be restricted. If the court believes the situation is severe enough, then a temporary, two-week order restricting access to guns is entered, the individual being restricted is notified (usually by law enforcement), and the guns and any concealed carry licenses are temporarily removed.
Next, a hearing is set within the two-week period where the court determines if the restrictions should be terminated immediately or continued for up to one year. If the person seeking the order believes continued restrictions are needed, they will need to renew the order every year. Similarly, the restricted individual can ask the court to terminate the order, if he or she can prove they no longer pose a significant danger to themselves or others by having access to guns.
All the required court forms have been created by the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts (WA State AOC). More information including the required forms, and detailed instructions on how to fill them out, can be found by clicking on the following links:
Informational Brochure (PDF Download)
Protection Order Forms (WA State AOC Website)
Chapter 7.94 RCW (Full Text of the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act)
 Article by JoNel Aleccia & Melissa Bailey, originally published July 21, 2018, Kaiser Health News: https://www.thenewstribune.com/news/state/washington/article215066725.html (Accessed 8/7/18)
The Team at the Elder Law Offices of Barry M. Meyers.
Barry M. Meyers
David M. Neubeck
Sara LC Hulford
Elder Law Offices of
Barry M. Meyers, P.S.
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