Oregonians Have Used Red Flag Law 166 Times In 2 Years – OPB News

Posted: December 18, 2019 at 2:48 am


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Joshs girlfriend broke up with him in the fall of 2017, and it hit him hard. He became depressed, started drinking and became more withdrawn. He got into a few mountain biking accidents, which his mom, Diane, thought were intentional. She thought he was trying to hurthimself.

And then it just seemed like all of a sudden he spiraled down bad, Dianesaid.

Of the 166 petitions filed in Oregon in the nearly two years since the law took effect, 112 were for people who were at risk of suicide and 39 were for domesticviolence.

Illustration: Jonathan Levinson /OPB

In February 2018, Josh shot himself in the leg. He owned five guns and initially he told his mom and sister it was an accident. But on the way to the hospital, Diane said he confided in her that he was trying to killhimself.

OPBis not using Joshs or his familys last name to protect hisprivacy.

Eventually, Diane would use Oregons newly created extreme risk protection orders (ERPO) to have her sons firearmsremoved.

The law, colloquially known as a red flag law, allows immediate family, co-habitants or law enforcement to ask a judge to prohibit a person from possessing or buying a firearm for one year. Once filed, respondents have 30 days to contest the order incourt.

OPBhas reviewed all 166 petitions that were filed in the state from Jan. 1, 2018, when the law went into effect, through Oct. 31,2019.

They paint a picture of people in extraordinarycrisis.

For the couple of months after Josh shot himself, he was in and out of the hospital. He would detox, start doing better, then relapse. In the hospital, he would hide his depression, self harm and suicidal thoughts from doctors and social workers. Despite her entreaties, Diane said there was little they coulddo.

But he definitely talked about he was depressed, she said. He would say, I want todie.

Doctors suggested she take his guns, but without his consent that wasimpossible.

I had tried at one point and he got in my face and said, Get the blank out of here, sherecounted.

Finally, in April 2018 a police officer on a wellness check at their home told Diane about the new extreme risk protectionorders.

Of the 166 petitions filed in Oregon in the nearly two years since the law took effect, 112 were for people at risk ofsuicide.

A Tillamook County woman, allegedly addicted to pain pills and in the midst of a divorce while living at a cancer treatment center, repeatedly demanded that her husband give her his firearm and ammunition so that she could take her own life. A father in Josephine County petitioned for an ERPO after his sons numerous threats to kill himself escalated to self harm and violence toward familymembers.

Has history of self harm including cutting, jumping from moving vehicles, and striking himself, reads the petition, which goes on to say the son often fondled a firearm or knife when speaking topeople.

Thirty-nine of the filed ERPOs, or about 23%, were related to domesticviolence.

A Washington County man pointed a gun at his wife and said, maybe Ill take us both out. A Josephine County man pushed a loaded pistol into his wifes chest so hard it left a bruise. That petition, filled out by a Josephine County Sheriffs Office deputy, reads, respondent owns approximately 30 firearms, including assault weapons and bodyarmor.

Twenty-six of the suicide and domestic violence petitions were for both. Most of the petitions involved multiple factors such as threats of violence, use of physical force, owning or attempting to purchase deadly weapons, prior convictions and use of controlledsubstances.

Currently, 17 states plus the District of Columbia have extreme risk protection orders. Connecticut was the first state to pass a red flag law in 1999 after a mass shooting at the Connecticut StateLottery.

The laws vary in how they work. In Oregon, only law enforcement, immediate family, and co-habitants can petition for an ERPO. Maryland and D.C. allow mental health providers to petition and New York allows school administrators. In Hawaii, where the law goes into effect Jan. 1, medical professionals, coworkers and educators can allpetition.

In Florida, where legislators passed a red flag law after the 2018 Parkland shooting, Jerron Smith recently became the first in the state to be convictedfor refusing to comply with an ERPO. Courts in Connecticut, Indiana and Florida have upheld the laws asconstitutional.

A 2018 study found Indianas ERPO law was associated with a 7.5% reduction in firearm suicides over 10 years. Connecticuts law was also associated with a reduction in suicide. Research has yet to show an impact on gunhomicides.

Diane, the mother whose son had become suicidal after breaking up with his girlfriend, filed the paperwork for an ERPO at 9 a.m. on April 17, 2018, and was in front of a judge that afternoon. By 6:15 that same evening, a sheriffs deputy delivered a certified copy of the order to Josh. His mom said he peacefully surrendered hisfirearms.

It tore my heart out, Diane said. I felt like he hatedme.

But, she said, it also served as a wake up call to Josh, who soon after got sober. His mom said he started going to Alcoholics Anonymous and seeing a therapist. Diane agreed to have the order liftedearly.

Josh didnt want to be interviewed for this story, but did relay a message through hismom.

He said he knows that he was so bad off that [the ERPO] was the right thing, but it still didnt make him happy, Dianesaid.

In an August interview with OPB, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said the law is working, but she acknowledged that it is not being widely used, it is not widely knownabout.

Of Oregons 36 counties, 11 havent issued a single ERPO. Another seven have issued just one. Part of that might be a function of awareness for the new law, but it may also bepolitical.

I believe that theres a preconceived notion that these are not appropriate in our county, said Rachael Espy, executive director of the SAFE Project, a domestic violence advocacy program in Coos County,Oregon.

I think that its more of a culture here in Coos County that everyone has a right to a firearm because of our Second Amendment rights, Espy said. And while I agree that we should protect our Second Amendment rights, I dont agree that everyone has a right to afirearm.

She said its up to police chiefs and sheriffs to determine best practices and train their officers and deputies on enforcing red flag laws. If leadership doesnt advocate for policies to protect survivors of domestic violence, then their subordinates wont either, shesaid.

If its not a resource thats readily offered, that theyre not trained on, that theyre not encouraged to use, then why would they use it? Espyasked.

While Oregons law may not have been fully embraced, in Colorado, elected officials and law enforcement are bracing for ashowdown.

The Colorado Legislature passed an ERPO law this year that will take effect on Jan. 1 and a number of Colorado sheriffs have said they wont enforce the law or use it in their counties. On Dec. 7, approximately 200 people attended a We Will Not Comply rally at the state Capitol. The Three Percent militia, an anti-government group, provided security. Speakers included a number of Republican state representatives and candidates forCongress.

Essentially what Im saying is, I wont be an applicant for a red flag order, Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams told KUNC in August. If we have someone who is a significant risk to themselves or others, well go out and handle that person but taking their guns away is not how to make a situation better when a person is incrisis.

Det. Lucas Franks with the Washington County Sheriffs Office in Oregon has been using extreme risk protection orders for almost two years and disagrees withReams.

Before extreme risk protection orders were an option, he said there were times when his hands would be tied, when he had done everything he could legally do and he would have to accept an ongoingrisk.

Its certainly not the answer to all the problems, but it can be a useful tool, Franks said. That void that we may not have been able to resolve in the past, the ERPO potentially helps withthat.

In some states a warrant may be issued allowing law enforcement to search the respondents home. Oregon isnt one of those states. Franks said enforcing a risk protection order in Oregon still requires some cooperation from therespondent.

Theres no mechanism for us to go booting the door and searching around ourselves, Franks said of Oregons law. Thats just not part ofit.

Even before an extreme risk protection order reaches police, it has to pass a judges scrutiny. Through October, 32 of the 166 requests in Oregon have been denied by judges and an additional 12 were dismissed after respondents requested a hearing. That means around 27% of requested ERPOs did not result in gunremovals.

Oregonians have petitioned for 166 extreme risk protection orders since Jan. 1, 2018. Judged granted 122 orders. Forty-four were denied or dismissed after they werechallenged.

Illustration: JonathanLevinson/OPB

Reasons judges denied petitions vary. Five were denied because the petitioner wasnt eligible to request the order it was filed by someones neighbor or boss, for example. Four were denied because the petitioner didnt show up to the initial hearing and another 15 were denied because the judge determined the evidence was insufficient to warrant an ERPO. Others were dismissed if the respondent was already prohibited from owning firearms or if other kinds of restraining orders were moreappropriate.

Jane, a woman in a domestic violence situation, nearly had her petition denied in July2018.

OPBis not using her real name because of safetyconcerns.

Jane said she had been living on adrenaline for more than two months after her husband had a psychoticbreak.

Near the end of April 2018, Janes husband told their daughter that he was going to die on May 1. She said that unraveled their marriage and made her worry about her safety and that of herchildren.

Jane said her life was a roller coaster after that. Her husband became paranoid, erratic and would talk about ending his life if she ever lefthim.

And throughout all of this, were still meeting with counselors, Jane said. Hes being sent to the hospital. The police are being called and still there was nothing I coulddo.

One night in June, she said, she realized she couldnt stay in the marriage any longer. Although her husband had always had what she described as violent tendencies, he had never been violent toward her. Still, that night, she was lying in bed and couldntsleep.

And I just remember thinking: At any time if he wanted to kill me, theres nothing I could do. Im helpless, she recalled. And thats when I realized, Maybe you dont know this person like you thought you did and maybe youre not as safe as you thought youwere.

Two months after his break began, she told him she wanted a divorce. She said he became homicidal. He accused her of having an affair and threatened to put a bullet in her head. When the police came that day, he repeated the same threats and said he was planning on ending hislife.

Her husband was hospitalized and the police told her to look into a restraining order, but didnt offer any details orhelp.

As a person whos in this crisis mode and experiencing their whole world turning upside down, it felt like I had no idea what I was doing, she said. Show me, tell me where to go, what makessense?

Jane was left to do her own research online and found information that incorrectly suggested that because her husband had never actually hurt her, she didnt qualify for a restraining order. Under Oregon law, threats of abuse are sufficient for a Family Abuse Prevention Act, or FAPA, protection order. Without a restraining order, Jane felt unsafe. She stumbled across the ERPOs online and thought they applied to her situation so she applied forone.

After explaining her situation to the judge, Jane said he still wasnt convinced it met the requirements for anERPO.

When the judge was asking me questions, it was like, Thats not enough. Thats not enough. I cant grant this to you, she said. But he said he would get a sniper rifle. He said specifically that he was going to shootme.

It wasnt until she mentioned that her husband had just gotten his Oregon state ID that the judge changed his mind. Janes husband didnt own any firearms but he had expressed an interest in buying one. And with a state ID, he finally had the ability to do so legally. The judge granted the ERPO, which meant her husband wouldnt be able to pass the required background check to buy afirearm.

The ERPO expired in July, and Jane said her relationship with her ex-husband is hostile but working. She said hes on medication now, and while they dont speak, he spends every other weekend with their children. He has even cancelled a few times when he said he felt off, a reassuring sign to her that he is more selfaware.

She said getting the protection order changed the way she interacted with herhusband.

I wanted him to still have parenting time and that was important to me, shesaid.

Without the ERPO, she said, she never would have even consideredit.

Resources if you or someone you know is consideringsuicide:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 orhttps://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Options For Deaf and Hard of Hearing:1-800-799-4889

En espaol:1-888-628-9454

Veterans Crisis Line & Military Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, Press1

For help with intimate partner violence call the National Domestic Violence Hotline:1-800-799-SAFE(7233)

1-800-787-3224 (TTY), or emaildeafhelp@thehotline.org

Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in Americanlife.

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Oregonians Have Used Red Flag Law 166 Times In 2 Years - OPB News

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December 18th, 2019 at 2:48 am

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