Know I-1491 – “Extreme Risk Protection Orders”

Important News (7/29/2019) – The Washington State Legislature removed all references to mental illness in the current law.  Mental illness may no longer be used as a criteria for removal of firearms.  These changes took effect July 29th, 2019.

Click here for Nov 8 election results Campaign Statement.

What you should know about Washington State Initiative 1491:

Unfortunately, I-1491 includes language about mental illness and associates it with mass shootings and other gun violence. 1   The short description on your ballot will read as follows:

This measure would allow police, family, or household members to obtain court orders temporarily preventing firearms access by persons exhibiting mental illness, violent or other behavior indicating they may harm themselves or others.

These court orders are called Extreme Risk Protection Orders and are issued for 1 year and are renewable indefinitely.

I-1491 Stigmatizes mental illness with gun violence and mass shootings:

The broad use of the term “persons exhibiting mental illness” and detailed language 1  in the initiative about gun violence and mass shooters creates a direct link between anyone with a mental illness and violent acts including “mass shootings.

Although the sponsors of the initiative have now tried to remove all of these references to mental illness from their website, the language still remains in the initiative and cannot be changed prior to the general election.

Myths versus facts about violence and mental illness:

Myth: People with mental health problems are violent and unpredictable.  Fact: The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.” 2  (

Facts about mass shooters:

Mass shooters have behaviors and symptoms that are difficult to detect 3   (National Institute of Health Website).  Therefore, the likelihood that this initiative will significantly reduce mass shootings is not scientifically proven.

I-1491 duplicates new laws and doesn’t provide treatment:

Washington State’s “Joel’s Law” 4  passed in 2015 already provides protection for individuals and those close to them by providing families a legal process for obtaining an involuntary treatment to a mental health facility when a person is determined to be a danger to themselves or others. An individual with a record of an involuntary treatment beyond 14 days cannot obtain or own a firearm.

Additionally, the highly respected organization “Forefront – Innovations in Suicide Prevention in partnership with the University of Washington School of Social Work” (Forefront remains conspicuously silent on any support of I-1491) championed new Washington State laws, that train medical professionals and educational professionals to identify, intervene, and get treatment for potentially suicidal persons.

I-1491 does nothing to provide treatment.  It simply takes guns away from what it identifies as potentially dangerous persons and hopes they won’t use other lethal means or acquire guns illegally.

Proponents of Initiative 1491 like to refer to Connecticut’s firearm restriction law and a recent study that has shown some suicide reduction in that state.  But what they fail to mention is that the Connecticut law uses a completely different approach using law enforcement investigations and warrants versus Initiative 1491’s protection order model.  And most importantly, the Connecticut law empowers law enforcement to take the troubled person for “treatment” which occurs 55 percent of the time which better explains the reduction in suicide under that law.  Initiative 1491’s lack of a “treatment” model is a setup for failure in reducing suicides.

Due process is undermined:

This initiative undermines due process by allowing for ex parte orders, which are expedited hearings and judgments without required notification of the accused to be present to defend themselves. These temporary orders can even be issued by lower courts, such as municipal courts, by judges with little or no experience in issuing this type of order.  Petitions to the court can be submitted by a broad set of individuals, including household members, police, dating partners, and former roommates.  Unsupported statements by a potentially hostile petitioner can be used as sole evidence in issuing the “Extreme risk protection order”.  Additionally, no public defender is provided, so the accused must pay for their own defense in any subsequent hearings. In order to seek relief from an Extreme Risk Protection Order, the accused has the burden of proof to show by a preponderance of evidence that they are no longer a danger to themselves or others. The cost of hiring a lawyer and providing expert testimony and documentation places a financial burden that many respondents may not be able to afford.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Washington has concerns:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Washington is neutral on I-1491.  However, NAMI Washington has concerns that the specific identification of mental illness in the bill will pose a significant deterrent to care and have the effect of erecting more barriers to treatment by raising fears that seeking help will result in loss of gun ownership rights. This law would also reinforce false public perceptions about the relationship between mental illness and gun violence. 5

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Washington has concerns:

The ACLU of Washington takes no position on I-1491 but does not support the initiative because of due process and other concerns including the recording of the protection order in court databases, which are open to the public. 6

Methods for confiscation of firearms provokes “Extreme Risk”:

Once law enforcement is given an order to remove firearms from someone that has been determined to be at “Extreme Risk” of harm to themselves or others, police are not likely to politely knock on the door and ask the individual to surrender their firearms.  Police are going to treat the individual as armed and dangerous and follow protocols that will most likely use tactical units and force to subdue the individual.  Such an approach would create “Extreme Risk” to the individual, the officers, and bystanders.  Faced with this type of invasion, an individual may attempt to defend themselves with firearms or even commit suicide in desperation.  At best, the individual, who may have not even been notified of a hearing, will be subjected to fear and humiliation and an extensive search of their property.

No judicial training for cases involving mental illness claims:

I-1491 calls for the use of superior court judges to hear protection order petitions even when the evidence is based on a claim of mental illness. There is no provision to move these cases to mental health courts or for training superior court judges on mental health law and diagnosis. There is also no provision to have a trained mental health professional be present to advise an untrained judge in such matters.




Disclaimer: The views expressed on are those of the author and political committee – KNOW I-1491 SPONSORED BY DAVID COMBS.  They do not imply endorsement by any organization referenced or quoted regardless of any affiliation to them by David Combs.

Paid for by political committee KNOW I-1491 SPONSORED BY DAVID COMBS