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Gun-safety group wants protection order measure to ballot

160218_protection_initiative.jpg
160218_protection_initiative.jpg

SEATTLE (AP) - A gun-safety group announced Thursday it is going back to voters after Washington state lawmakers failed to pass a bill to create protection orders that take guns from people who pose a serious risk of hurting themselves or others.

Extreme-risk protection orders, modeled after domestic violence protection orders, would allow families or law enforcement to ask a judge to temporally suspend access to firearms if a person is a high-risk of violent behavior, Renee Hopkins, executive director of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, told supporters gathered at the Seattle Town Hall.

The group, which was behind the recently approved private-sale background-check initiative in Washington, will need to secure 246,372 signatures by July 8 for the measure to appear on the November ballot.

Only three states - California, Indiana and Connecticut - have enacted such laws. California passed its bill after the mass shooting in 2014 near the University of California, Santa Barbara. The family of the shooter had concerns about his mental state but was unable to stop him from securing a firearm, said alliance spokeswoman Joanna Paul.

A bill that sought to create the protection orders in Washington state only had one committee hearing before it died. During the hearing, members of the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups said the orders could easily be abused and the focus should be on getting treatment for mentally ill people, not firearms.

Stephanie Ervin, the alliance's campaign manager, said the gun lobby still has "out-sized influence" in the Washington Legislature, "so we're going back to the people because we know they'll be with us again."

Marilyn Balcerak told the gathering that her 23-year-old son, James, periodically acted suicidal but she was powerless to get him help. He purchased a firearm and on June 7, 2015, he shot his 21-year-old step-sister, Brianna, and then himself, she said.

"If the extreme-risk protection order had been law a year ago, I believe that Brianna and James would be alive today and I would have more time to get the help my son needed," she said.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said families of suicidal or violent people will sometimes try to get them held under the state's civil commitment law, but "committing someone for involuntary treatment is very difficult. The bar is very high."

The extreme-risk protection orders are a lower bar, but still require a judge's approval before firearms could be taken away, he said.

"I don't know who would be against disarming somebody who a judge has found to be dangerous," he said. "It's not permanent. It's not something that's going to be easily abused.

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole said the orders are a common-sense, practical approach to preventing gun violence.

"People who may harm themselves, harm those they love or harm first-responders coming to their aid should not have easy access to firearms," she said.

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