Guest Opinion by Richard Badalamente*

Many people have heard the legal term, Ignorantia juris non excusat, although perhaps not in Latin. Translated it means “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

There’s another expression, ignorant lures nocet, which means “not knowing the law is harmful.” In the case of Extreme Risk Protection Order Laws (ERPO), that’s a better fit.

Washington’s ERPO or “red flag” law temporarily suspends a person’s access to firearms when they are found to pose a significant risk to themselves or others.

The critical importance of raising the public’s awareness of the red flag laws was brought home to me once again Saturday, September the 16th, when a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy was shot to death by suspected gunman, Kevin Salazar.

According to reports, Salazar’s mother said he struggled with mental health issues, including schizophrenia, and wouldn’t take his medication. Authorities allege that he was able to legally obtain a firearm.

Earlier this year I read about a tragic case of gun violence here in Kennewick. In February 2023, the Tri City Herald re-examined  the 2021 case of Ryan Kaufman who suffered from severe mental illness, but nevertheless was able to obtain multiple firearms, and went on what the Herald called “one of the worst crime sprees in Tri-Cities history.”

These cases prompted me to ask ,“Why aren’t we using our red flag laws?” Both California and Washington have them.

Failure to effectively implement Washington’s ERPO (RCW 7.105.100), especially in Benton and Franklin counties, may well cost lives.

As a veteran, it saddens me to learn that in the U.S., suicide is the second leading cause of death among veterans under age 45 and the majority who die by suicide do so with a firearm. In Washington 76 percent of gun fatalities are suicides.

The ERPO law has been in effect in Washington for over five years, and to say it has been used only sparingly is an understatement.

In Kennewick, where I live, local law enforcement reports that ERPOs have been implemented only three times since the law was enacted in 2016 . This despite almost 10,000 serious crimes during that period, including over 8000 involving domestic violence. The number of ERPO filings in Richland and Pasco is similarly miniscule. Why?

There are several reasons for the minimal employment of ERPOs; inadequate funding for education which leads to the public’s ignorance of its existence, and the absence of training for law enforcement and social service agencies.

The League of Women Voters of Benton and Franklin (LWV-BF) counties is working to change that, with League members volunteering to increase public awareness and education on ERPO by meeting with local agencies like the Benton-Franklin Health District, the Pasco Regional Police Training Center, and others.

For more information on ERPO go to the Benton County website. Extreme Risk Protection Order – Benton County WA

*Richard Badalamente is a board member of Sustainable Tri-Cities. He is working with the Benton-Franklin League of Women Voters to raise awareness of Extreme Risk Protection Orders in our region. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.