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Washington Ballot Initiative 1491 Will Save Lives Indicates Analysis of Connecticut Law

New Report Details Success of Reducing Access to Guns During Crisis Situations


(Seattle, WA) – As part of the November ballot, voters in Washington will decide whether to give family members and law enforcement the ability to ask a court to temporarily suspend a person’s access to firearms when a court determines that person is considered a threat to themselves or others.  If passed, Washington’s Initiative 1491 would create an Extreme Risk Protection Order, a process modeled after domestic violence restraining orders that require a court hearing and due process protections to temporarily remove guns from individuals in crisis.

Evidence shows Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO) can save lives.  A new report released by the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence shows how such protection orders can be a valuable tool in reducing gun deaths in Washington.  The report examines newly released data on the success of a similar policy in Connecticut that has been in effect for over a decade.

“Much like a seatbelt reduces injuries in a crash, temporarily removing guns from a crisis situation reduces the likelihood of death or injury,” said Josh Horwitz, Executive Director of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. “Evidence supports Washington’s Extreme Risk Protection Order Initiative as an effective tool to remove guns before a situation turns deadly.”

“We work closely with gun violence survivors, public health experts and law enforcement professionals; they were all asking for a mechanism to keep people who are a real threat to themselves and others from getting easy access to firearms,” said Stephanie Ervin, Campaign Manager for Initiative 1491. “Gunfire kills more people every year than car accidents in Washington. We’re facing a public health crisis. Inaction is not an option.”

Gun Violence in the state of Washington

In 2014, there were 702 gun deaths, an astounding 75 percent of which were suicides, making gun suicides the leading cause of violent death in the state. Washington’s firearm suicide rate is higher than the national average (7.64 versus 6.34 deaths per 100,000, respectively), when adjusting for age.

If enacted, Washington Initiative 1491 would require that a person subject to an Extreme Risk Protection Order surrender their guns to police and not possess or purchase new firearms for up to one year.  In Connecticut, a similar law resulted in over 760 “risk-warrants” being issued in the first 14 years, with over 300 issued between 2011 and 2013.

Key findings from Connecticut’s risk-warrant law:

·         Police found firearms in 99 percent of instances when a risk-warrant was issued, removing an average of seven guns per warrant.

·         People in Connecticut subject to risk-warrants had an annual suicide rate 40 times higher than the general population.

·         Nearly one-third of all risk warrant subjects received mental health and substance abuse treatment after a risk-warrant was issued.

·         At least one life is saved for every 20 risk-warrants issued, an estimated 38 to 76 people are alive today.

The findings in Connecticut show the risk-warrant orders can reach people at high risk of gun suicide and save lives.  Passing Initiative 1491 in Washington, a state where gun suicides account for 75 percent of all gun deaths and the firearm ownership rate is over 1.5 times higher than Connecticut’s, would likely have a much larger impact than in Connecticut.

Currently, California and Indiana have similar laws in place.  Next year at least 11 states are expected to introduce comparable laws, including Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Real-Life Impact of Washington Initiative 1491

In June 2015, Marilyn Balcerak of Auburn, Washington knew her son was in danger.  Marilyn had called 911 and asked police officers how she could keep her son away from dangerous weapons.  She was told she had only two options: cut all ties between her and her son with a restraining order or wait until he committed a felony crime, making possession of a firearm a crime.

“I was afraid of my son; I was afraid for my son, but there was nothing I could do to keep him from buying a gun. He killed himself and his step-sister and I was powerless to stop it,” said Marilyn Balcerak, citizen-sponsor of the I-1491 campaign. “If Extreme Risk Protection Orders had been law two years ago, my son and daughter would still be alive.”

“This fall, Washington voters have a real opportunity to enact meaningful, common sense, gun safety reform that will save lives,” said Tim Daly, Managing Director for Guns and Crime Policy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington, DC based think tank.  “Washingtonians have already demonstrated that they will not surrender the safety of their communities to the gun lobby by overwhelmingly adopting the 2014 ballot initiative on universal background checks.  Now these same voters can continue leading the way nationally by considering a new innovative policy that will reduce gun deaths.”

The report titled, “Extreme Risk Protection Orders: An Opportunity to Save Lives in Washington,” is available online.

Related data:

Swanson, Jeffrey W. and Norko, Michael et al., Implementation and Effectiveness of Connecticut’s Risk-Based Gun Removal Law: Does it Prevent Suicides? (August 24, 2016). Law and Contemporary Problems, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2828847.


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About Initiative Measure No. 1491
Initiative 1491 is a 2016 Washington State Initiative to allow family members and law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily suspend a person’s access to firearms if there is documented evidence that the person poses a serious threat to themselves or others. Family members and law enforcement are often in the best position to see the warning signs of violence and, by creating Extreme Risk Protection Orders, Initiative 1491 will give them a tool to prevent a tragedy before it happens. http://gunresponsibility.org/solution/extreme-risk-protection-orders/
About the Alliance for Gun Responsibility
The Alliance for Gun Responsibility works to end the gun violence crisis in our community and to promote a culture of gun ownership that balances rights with responsibilities. Through collaboration with experts, civic leaders, and citizens, we work to find evidenced-based solutions to the crisis of gun violence in our community. We create innovative policy, advocate for changes in laws, and promote community education to reduce gun violence. Learn more at: www.gunresponsibility.org and follow us at @WAGunResponsib.
About the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence
The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence (Ed Fund) was founded in 1978 as a 501(c)(3) organization that makes communities safer by working to reduce gun violence. The Ed Fund achieves this by engaging in policy development, advocacy, community and stakeholder engagement, and technical assistance.