The handgun removed from a Belltown man last week.
The handgun removed from a Belltown man last week. Seattle Police Department

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One week ago, Seattle police's crisis team took away a 31-year-old Belltown man's handgun under the state's relatively new Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) law. ERPOs, or "gun violence restraining orders" as they're also known, were voted into state law in 2016. The law allows a person's family members, intimate partners, housemates, legal guardians, and law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily remove that person's access to firearms.

Connecticut, Oregon, Indiana, and California have similar laws on the books. And in the wake of the Parkland shooting, several more state legislatures have introduced bills that would do the same. But the right-wing blogosphere also picked up the Seattle story and ran a very different narrative: "Seattle Police Begin NAZI STYLE Gun Confiscation: No Laws Broken, No Warrant, No Charges."

As Snopes soon pointed out, the headline—which ran on prepper site, Zero Hedge, and was upvoted more than 5,000 times on r_The_Donald—was not remotely true. A law was allegedly broken, there was a warrant, and there was a charge. According to SPD's Sergeant Eric Pisconski, head of the department's crisis response team, the department had already petitioned a judge for an ERPO on the Belltown man, won it, and had the man agree to turn over his firearms. When he failed to comply and show up for a court hearing on the petition, according to police, officers went back to court to get a search warrant.

According to police, the department had received multiple reports about the man's "escalating behavior" over the last year. "In one recent incident, staff at a restaurant near the man’s home called police and reported that the man was harassing them while carrying a holstered firearm," SPD's Blotter reported. "Police also seized a shotgun from the man in another incident."

Police additionally told Snopes that the threats he made while armed outside the restaurant violated state law, which resulted in a separate arrest warrant.

The steps for taking away a weapon under Washington's ERPO law, according to the law, go like this:

1. Family, housemates, intimate partners, or law enforcement petition a court for an ERPO, alleging that the person "poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to self or others" through owning or purchasing a firearm—and through sworn affidavit, the petitioners claim that the person's actions give rise to a "reasonable fear of future dangerous acts."

2. A judge orders a hearing on the ERPO petition within two weeks.

3. If the court finds a preponderance of evidence that the subject of the petition "poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to self or others" through access to a firearm, the judge can grant the ERPO, which lasts a year.

4. Some of the evidence a judge can consider? Recent threats of violence (involving a firearm or not), a pattern of threats of violence within the last year, a violation of a no contact order, a domestic violence conviction, "unlawful or reckless" use or display of a firearm, a history of stalking, substance abuse, recent gun purchases—and, trickiest, "any dangerous mental health issues." Civil liberties and mental health awareness advocates opposed the last piece of language in the original initiative at the time, but maintained a neutral position on the initiative itself.

5. The judge then orders a new hearing date ordering the subject of the petition to show up in court within three days to make sure he or she has complied with the order.

6. The person involved surrenders firearms belonging to the respondent within 48 hours of the ERPO being served.

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7. If the person doesn't comply, petitioners or law enforcement submit a sworn statement to the court alleging that the person hasn't complied, and the judge determines whether there's probable cause.

8. If there's probable cause that the respondent didn't comply with the ERPO, a judge can issue a search warrant.

And, for what it's worth, Hitler's gun policy didn't create a registry and confiscate all gun-owners' weapons, as one Florida legislator with a poor grasp of history said this week. Hitler actually "dramatically increase(d)" the number of Germans with private guns, an expert on German gun policies told Politifact. An earlier law from 1928 had created a registry of guns, but that registry didn't actually cover most of the guns people had. At the same time, Hitler took away weapons from Jews, Communists, and Social Democrats.

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