In 2016, Washington voters overwhelmingly approved of a law that enables individuals who are most likely to notice the warning signs of violence– family members– to petition a court to remove guns from a loved one in crisis.1 The law, called an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO), allows family members, as well as law enforcement officers, to file a petition demonstrating to a judge that an individual poses a significant risk of harm to himself, herself, or others. If the court determines that the petitioner has met the standard of proof, it will issue an order that lasts up to one year. An individual subject to an ERPO must relinquish his or her guns to law enforcement.2 Read more about these types of laws on our policy page, Gun Violence Protective Orders.
Washington also enables courts to disarm dangerous individuals in other ways. State superior courts and courts of limited jurisdiction may order forfeiture of a firearm proven to be:
- Found concealed on a person not authorized to carry a concealed pistol;
- Commercially sold to any person without an application as required by state law;
- In the possession of a person prohibited from possessing the firearm under state law;
- In the possession or under the control of a person at the time he or she committed or was arrested for committing a felony or committing a nonfelony crime in which a firearm was used or displayed;
- In the possession of a person who is in any place in which a concealed pistol license is required, and who is under the influence of any drug or intoxicating liquor;
- In the possession of a person free on bail or personal recognizance pending trial, appeal, or sentencing for a felony or for a nonfelony crime in which a firearm was used or displayed;
- In the possession of a person found to have been mentally incompetent while possessing the gun when apprehended or who is thereafter committed under state law;
- Used or displayed by a person in the violation of a proper written order of a court of general jurisdiction; or
- Used in the commission of a felony or of a nonfelony crime in which a firearm was used or displayed.3
Law enforcement officers of the state or of any county or municipality may confiscate a firearm found to be in the possession of a person under any of the circumstances specified above.4
Any confiscated firearm may be surrendered only: 1) to the prosecuting attorney for use in subsequent legal proceedings; 2) for disposition according to an order of a court having jurisdiction; or 3) to the owner if the proceedings are dismissed or the court otherwise directs.
In 2015, Washington enacted a law requiring that a law enforcement agency must, before returning a confiscated firearm:
(a) Confirm that the individual to whom the firearm will be returned is the individual from whom the firearm was obtained or an authorized representative of that person;
(b) Confirm that the individual to whom the firearm will be returned is eligible to possess a firearm;
(c) Ensure that the firearm is not otherwise required to be held in custody or otherwise prohibited from being released; and
(d) Ensure that twenty-four hours have elapsed from the time the firearm was obtained by law enforcement.5
This law also provides that a family or household member may request to be notified when a law enforcement agency returns a privately owned firearm to the individual from whom it was obtained or to an authorized representative of that person.6 This notification may be made via telephone, email, text message, or another method that allows notification to be provided without unnecessary delay.7 If a family or household member has requested to be notified, a law enforcement agency must:
(a) Provide notice to the family or household member within one business day of verifying that the individual from whom the firearm was obtained is eligible to possess and receive the firearm; and
(b) Hold the firearm in custody for seventy-two hours from the time notification has been provided.8
Once these requirements have been met, the law enforcement agency must release the firearm to the individual from whom it was obtained or an authorized representative of that person upon request without unnecessary delay.9
For laws governing the procedure for surrender of firearms by a person subject to a protective order, see the section entitled Domestic Violence and Firearms in Washington. See also the Mental Health Reporting in Washington section for additional court notices restricting the possession of a firearm.