What is an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO)?
An Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) is a court order that temporarily suspends a person’s access to firearms, a concealed pistol license, and ammunition if there is evidence that the person is a danger to themselves or others. In the ERPO process, that person is called the “respondent”.
When an ERPO is granted, the respondent is ordered to turn over any and all firearms and concealed pistol licenses to law enforcement. They cannot have any firearms in their custody or control, and cannot purchase, receive, or attempt to purchase or receive any firearms during the time that the order is in place. They are also prohibited from applying for a concealed pistol license.
An ERPO is an important tool to try to prevent mass shootings, suicides, homicides, and domestic violence.
The vast majority of people who commit mass shootings and suicides show signs of their intentions. Family members and school personnel (in the case of minors) are often the first to see those signs, or even witness direct threats. ERPOs enable those in the best position to see a tragedy coming—family or household members and law enforcement—to prevent it.
California, Indiana, Oregon, Maryland, Florida, Delaware, Connecticut, and other states all have versions of this tool in place. California passed its law in 2014 after the UC Santa Barbara shooting, where law enforcement had been unable to remove the shooter’s guns despite the family’s reports of mental distress and credible threats of violence.
In Washington, family members of the Café Racer and Jewish Federation shooters said they wished there had been tools for people who see signs that their loved ones may do terrible harm.
In addition, nearly 70% of gun deaths in Washington State are suicides. Access to guns is associated with significantly higher risks of suicide.
ERPOs are modeled on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Protection Orders.
After a petition is filed, the court holds a hearing to determine whether the person (the respondent) poses a serious threat of violence to themselves or others. The judge can issue an order restricting access to guns for up to one year, and can also refer the respondent for mental health or chemical dependency evaluation to ensure they get the help they need. The respondent may request one hearing a year to end the order. Violation of the order carries a criminal penalty.
An Extreme Risk Protection Order can require that someone:
- Not possess firearms or ammunition
- Not buy firearms or ammunition
- Not able to receive firearms or ammunition
- Turn in any and all firearms and concealed pistol licenses to the police
An Extreme Risk Protection Order can NOT order require someone to:
- Stay away from you or your family members
- Not contact or go near you, your children, other relatives, or others who live with you
- Move out of your house
Should I get an ERPO?
Do you know someone who you believe poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to themselves or others in the near future by having guns/firearms?
- Do they have guns in their possession?
- Have they threatened to harm themselves?
- Have they threatened to harm someone else?
- Have they demonstrated violent behavior?
- Do you believe them to be experiencing a behavioral health crisis?
- Are they abusing drugs or alcohol?
- Have you seen a rapid change in behavior that causes you concern for their safety or the safety of others?
An ERPO request may be filed by a family or household member or law enforcement.
You may file an ERPO if you:
- are related by blood, marriage, or adoption
- are dating partners
- have a child in common
- live with the respondent or have lived with the respondent within the past year
- are domestic partners
- are a biological or legal parent or child of the respondent, including stepparents and stepchildren, and grandparents and grandchildren
- are acting or have acted as the respondent’s legal guardian
If you do not have the necessary relationship, or are not comfortable asking the court for an order, you can report your concerns to the police and ask them if they would be able to assist with an ERPO.
Mental health counselors, school personnel and co-workers may see signs or be aware of behaviors that cause them concern. Do not ignore these concerns. Instead, reach out to the family/household members or law enforcement to report your concerns so they can potentially petition for an ERPO. As a witness to the concerning behavior/threats, you are allowed to write a statement about what you have observed to be included in the petition filed by a family/household member or law enforcement, if appropriate.
Yes, you must be 18 or older.
How do I get an ERPO?
To get an ERPO, you must file a petition in the county where either you or the person at risk of violence lives.
To begin the process:
- Review the overview of the steps to get an ERPO here.
- You will need to fill out two forms. Download the two required forms here and fill them out.
- Go to the clerk’s office at the county’s superior court and give them the forms you’ve filled out. Find addresses for County Superior Courts here.
- The court clerk will give you a hearing date and time, and note it on your copy of the order form. If you don’t have access to a computer, the clerk can also give you the forms there to fill out.
All the forms are available here. Be prepared that the court may have additional forms for you to fill out once you appear. Forms you may need include:
- Form XR 121: this is the Petition for a Temporary Extreme Protection Order-Without Notice—fill out all of this form if you are filing for a temporary ERPO. Download the instructions here.
- Form XR 101: this is the Petition for an Extreme Risk Protection Order—fill out all of this form if you are NOT filing for a temporary ERPO. Download the instructions here.
- Form XR 141: this is the Petitioner and Respondent information and “Respondent Identifiers”—fill out page 1 of this form. Download the instructions here.
- Form XR 102: this is a photo sheet showing examples of firearms.
No. You will not be charged a fee for filing, for law enforcement to serve the order on the respondent, or to remove his or her guns.
What do I need to file an ERPO?
If you are asking for a temporary order, the information you provide will have to convince the judge that the respondent poses a significant danger in the near future of causing injury to himself, herself, or another person by having a gun/firearm.
If you are not seeking a temporary order and only asking for a final ERPO, you will have to provide evidence to the judge that the person poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to himself, herself, or others by having a firearm. The judge will review the documents you provide (your petition and any other evidence) to see if there is “reasonable fear of future dangerous” acts.
You should include as much specific information as you can in your petition, including the dates when events happened, and be prepared to present it at the court hearing. You can also add signed, sworn statements from any other people with direct information about the respondent’s behavior.
Information the court may look for includes:
- Does the respondent own, have access to, or have they tried to purchase firearms? If so, how many firearms? What types of firearms? Where they are kept? When did you last see them?
- Does that possession of firearms or attempt to purchase firearms cause you to fear that they may use them to harm themselves or someone else?
- Has the respondent violated any kind of protection order (such as a restraining order or domestic violence protection order) in the past?
- Has there been any recent act or threat of violence or a pattern of acts or threats of violence in the last 12 months?
- Are there 911 calls, arrests or convictions that may show the person is experiencing (or has a history of) a behavioral health crisis or violent behavior the court should know about?
- Is there a history of use or threats to use physical force?
- Is there a history of stalking?
- Does the respondent use controlled substances or alcohol?
- Have there been incidents of the unlawful and reckless use, or display of a firearm?
- Is there evidence that the respondent has been identified as a danger by a medical provider or mental health professional?
- Are there any existing or past protection orders or court cases involving the respondent?
- Do you have the respondent’s medical or police records? ERPOs are public records. If you are submitting medical records, let the clerk know that you have medical records that will need to be filed under seal so they are not accessible to the public.
No. If providing an address would risk harm to you or a family member, you do not have to list your address. However, you must provide an “alternative address” so you can be reached about the case or served with papers from the respondent or their lawyer in response to your ERPO petition.
Consulting with or hiring a lawyer may be helpful but is not required. Because this is a civil case, you will not be provided a free, court-appointed attorney.
Please ask the court clerk about any free and low-cost legal services and self-help centers in your county. To get legal advice you should hire an lawyer (for “full service” representation or for “limited” representation).
What will happen when I file an ERPO?
After you file a petition:
- Law enforcement will notify the respondent and serve them with a copy of your petition, letting them know of the upcoming hearing. If a temporary order has been entered, law enforcement can remove the firearms at the time of service.
- At the hearing, the court will determine whether the respondent poses a serious threat of violence to themselves or others.
- The judge can issue an order restricting access to firearms and concealed pistol licenses for up to one year and can also refer the respondent for evaluation to ensure they get the help they need. Any behavioral or mental health evaluation ordered by the court will not be paid for by the court.
- The respondent may request one hearing a year to end (terminate) the order, but you will be given notice if the respondent has filed papers requesting termination.
If the court issues a temporary order, police will “serve” (give) the respondent a copy of the order. Personal service of the order lets the respondent know: why you are asking for the protection order; what they are required to do; and date of the hearing where they will have an opportunity to respond.
The court cannot hold a full hearing about the order unless the respondent was properly served (at least 5 court days’ notice prior to the hearing). The police cannot arrest anyone for violating the terms of an order unless there is proof that the person knew about the order.
If you ask for a Temporary ERPO, it will be effective as soon as the judge signs it. You will likely go before the court the same day you file your petition, or the next day, and the court will decide whether to grant a temporary order at that time. If the court denies your request for the temporary order they must indicate, in writing, why they are denying the order.
If you don’t ask for a temporary order, you will have to wait up to 14 days until the hearing, which is when the court will decide whether to issue an order that will last for one year.
Law enforcement serving the order will request that the respondent immediately surrender any and all firearms and concealed pistol licenses. If not surrendered immediately, the respondent must surrender them within 48 hours of being served, or of receiving the order at the hearing.
The police officer will ask the respondent to immediately turn over any and all firearms. The officer must take possession of any firearms turned over or any firearms seen in plain sight. The respondent is given a receipt for them and the officer must file the receipt with the court within 72 hours. The more information you are able to provide about firearms the safer this removal can be for law enforcement and the respondent.
If the respondent is served notice by a private party instead of law enforcement, or if they are present at the hearing, then they must turn over any and all firearms to a local law enforcement agency within 48 hours.
If the court issues a Temporary ERPO, it will last until the hearing date, which must be within 14 days of the date of the temporary order.
If the court issues an ERPO, it will last for one year. It may be renewed for additional one-year periods. Any request to renew the order must be filed with the court after the order has been in place for at least 260 days.
You can ask the court to renew the order by filing a petition for renewal with the court any time after 260 days (approximately three months before the order expires). You will need to let the court know in your renewal petition why you believe the respondent still poses a risk if they had their firearms returned or were eligible to purchase firearms again.
Avoid waiting until the last day before the order is scheduled to expire to ensure that the order doesn’t lapse. If you miss the deadline to file for the renewal, you will have to refile for a new ERPO, which will require a new statement about any new behaviors that cause you concern.
If the respondent doesn’t oppose the order, it may be renewed based on an affidavit (a written statement under oath) saying there is no change in circumstances. Otherwise, you will go through the same process as with the initial order.
The respondent can file a motion (request) to end (terminate) the ERPO only once during the one-year period the order is in effect. The respondent must prove that he or she does not pose a significant danger to self or others by having firearms.
What will happen at the hearing?
Yes. You must go to court on the date the clerk gives you to appear for your hearing. However, a court may schedule a hearing by telephone when it is necessary to accommodate a disability or “in exceptional circumstances” to protect a petitioner from potential harm. If you believe you may need to appear by telephone, ask the court how to seek permission to do so well in advance of the hearing date.
Yes. The respondent has the right to appear and argue against the entry of the order. The respondent does not have to appear, but it is important to be prepared that you may see them. If they come to the hearing and you are afraid, please immediately let court staff know. You are also welcome to bring a support person to be with you at the hearing.
In most cases, the judge will have already read your petition. If not, allow them time to review your petition when your case is called or summarize the evidence in your petition. Be prepared to give a brief description of why you believe this person is a risk to themselves or others and why the order should be in place.
Witnesses are not required, but it helps to have more proof than just your word. For example, consider bringing:
- Witnesses: when you file your petition, ask if the court will accept “live” witness testimony or if they prefer to have witness statements in writing.
- Written statements from witnesses: statements should be made under oath, be signed and dated, and include the following statement: “I certify under the laws of the state of Washington that the foregoing is true and correct.”
- Photos or videos: ask the court in advance whether they have the technology needed to review video footage or recordings.
- Medical or police reports: file any medical records under seal to prevent public access to private medical information.
- Damaged property
- Threatening letters, e-mails, or telephone messages
The court may or may not let witnesses speak at the hearing. So, if possible, you should bring their written sworn statements to the hearing. See this example of a sworn statement form.
Yes. You can bring someone to sit with you during the hearing, but that person cannot speak for you in court. Only you or your lawyer (if you have one) can speak for you.
Language access is your right. When you file your papers, let the court clerk know that you need an interpreter. An interpreter should be provided to you at no cost, although there may not be an interpreter readily available at the time you file your petition. If possible, contact the court in advance to let them know to order an interpreter for you, or bring a friend who can help you in your primary language. The court must be made accessible to the public but to avoid any delays.
Assistive listening systems, computer-assisted real-time captioning, or sign language interpreter services are available if you ask at least five days before the hearing. Contact the clerk’s office or fill out a Request for Accommodations by Persons with Disabilities and Response.
What will an ERPO mean for me or someone I care about?
An ERPO is a civil order, not a criminal prosecution. The respondent could be subject to criminal charges if they violate the terms of the order, but just filing the order will not subject the respondent to jail or criminal charges. Although it is emotionally challenging to bring this type of action, for many families, it is better than the risk if they did not act.
The court is required to make sure the respondent complies with the order. When the order is issued, the court must set a new hearing date no more than three judicial days later to ensure that the firearms and concealed pistol licenses have been recovered. The respondent will be required to appear to show that he or she has surrendered any and all firearms in their possession. If there is validated proof of compliance before the review hearing, the court may cancel the review hearing.
It would be a violation of the order for the respondent to purchase, possess, access, or receive firearms, or apply for a concealed pistol license while the ERPO is in place. If you are aware of the respondent violating the order in any way, please call law enforcement immediately. The respondent can be arrested and charged with a crime, or the court can be asked to issue a search warrant to obtain the firearms.
If the petitioner or police swears under oath that the respondent failed to comply with order to surrender firearms, the court must determine whether the respondent has failed to comply, and, if so, the court must issue a warrant authorizing police to search for the firearms.
Feeling worried or anxious about retaliation is a valid concern. There is no true way to predict how someone will respond when they are served with the order, but it is helpful to think about how they have responded to different types of intervention (either formal or informal) in the past.
If they have threatened to harm anyone who ever tries to take their guns or that they will harm the police if they are ever called, you will want to engage in safety planning before filing to help to ensure your own safety and the safety of law enforcement. If you feel that you cannot safely file for this order as a family or household member, please reach out to your local law enforcement agency and see if they would be able to assist in bringing forth a petition.
You do not need to reveal anything about your immigration status to petition for this kind of order. The court is also not allowed to ask you about your immigration status. Please note however, that these cases are public records so they can be viewed by others.
If you are looking for suicide prevention or mental health resources, here are some links: