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Seattle police first in state to seize gun under mental health law

SEATTLE – The city’s police department became the first law enforcement agency in the state to force the surrender of a firearm under a new law known as an “extreme risk protection order.”

The incident involves a man who lives in Belltown, who neighbors said had been intimidating people for the past year – even staring-down customers through store-front windows with a gun holstered at his side.

Mental illness is suspected, but that new law allowed police to legally disarm him.

“He was roaming the hallways with a .25 caliber semi-automatic,” said Tony Montana, who knows the man from his apartment complex. “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.”

The man, who we are not naming, is also well known to the bars and restaurants below his unit along Second Ave. The volume of complaints convinced Seattle police to seek an extreme risk protection order – or “erpo” – which allows law enforcement to legally remove guns from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.

In this case, the man refused to comply. Because of the new law, police were then able to return with a warrant and force the man to surrender the firearm.

“I’m very supportive of this law,” Montana said. “This is a perfect case in point where it’s had some efficacy. It was an immediate crisis and law enforcement was able to remove his firearms, so it very well could have saved lives.”

A few dozen erpos have been served and executed around the state, but Seattle police said they are the only agency so far to seize a gun because the owner refused to hand it over.

Law enforcement professionals said these specialized protection orders could be a common sense strategy to try and prevent mass shootings – such as what happened in Parkland, Florida.

“There’s certainly a big concern of the connection between mental health and people exhibiting violent behavior and whether or not they should have access to firearms. The ‘erpos’ give us that tool now as an option,” said Sgt. Eric Pisconski, who leads the crisis response unit for the Seattle Police Department.

The confiscations only last a year, although they can be renewed.

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