Firearm confiscation can get a little fuzzy

When Auburn Police confiscate your gun, getting it back may not be as sure as shootin’back may not be as sure as shootin’

Auburn Police Chief Bill Pierson. FILE PHOTO

Auburn Police Chief Bill Pierson. FILE PHOTO

State law makes the Auburn Police Department the go-to for processing concealed pistol licenses and gun purchases within city limits.

Over the last year, the Auburn Police Department has collected 31 firearms under judges’ orders, and in 22 cases petitioners who asked for their firearms back did not get them.

“On occasion, we are in possession of a firearm at the city police department in our evidence room and somebody is asking to get that gun back,” newly-minted Auburn Police Chief Bill Pierson told the Auburn City Council at its study session on Monday.

“Once we get that request, our evidence technicians will begin to do a background on this person to determine if they are allowed to even have the firearm back,” Pierson continued.

Sometimes the answer must be no.

No to convicted felons.

But no as well to the person who committed an act of 4th-degree domestic violence assault, coercion, stalking, reckless endangerment, criminal trespassing, or violated a protection or no-contact order after July 1, 1993 and was convicted for the misdemeanor.

Finally, no to anyone who has been involuntarily committed or anyone who is under 18 years old.

It’s not always so clear cut.

When police can’t say for certain, given the present labyrinth of laws, whether the applicant was actually convicted of the offense, or if his or her criminal history raises red flags, or the person has an out-of-state criminal history that may or may not disqualify him or her, the APD sends its paper work to the city attorney’s office for research and guidance.

The city attorney’s office then asks other courts and police agencies for additional documentation and information to determine whether police should grant or deny the application.

While everyone has the Second Amendment right to possess firearms in their home or in their place of business without a concealed weapons permit, Pierson said, carrying a concealed firearm in Washington state does require a permit. United States citizens are also allowed to openly carry firearms.

Courts and prosecutors often get involved in firearms issues.

“There is an extreme-risk protection order … and it can happen a couple of ways. It can be ordered by the court … or a police officer can petition the court to have somebody’s firearms removed,” Pierson said.

If probable cause has been found that the defendant committed domestic violence, a judge issues an order prohibiting him or her from contacting the protected person or prohibiting the defendant from stalking, harassing or being in contact with that person. Typically, the judge then orders the defendant to surrender all firearms they have.

In the APD’s domestic violence cases, Pierson said, the judge issuing the NCO directs the defendant to surrender his or her weapons to police and to provide proof to the court within five days. If within five days the defendant does not either surrender the weapons or submit a declaration of non-surrender stating that they have no weapons, the court sets a review hearing, and-or indicates that this must be addressed at their next scheduled hearing, depending upon how soon the next hearing is scheduled.

If prosecutors can show – typically based on the victim’s word – that the defendant has weapons that he or she hasn’t surrendered them, the court can set bail and take the defendant into custody based on the violation of release conditions.

The court can also order firearm forfeiture in cases in which a gun was used or displayed – for instance, in a display of dangerous weapon case – in a DUI when a firearm was found in the defendant’s possession during arrest, or if the firearm was found in possession of a person who is determined to be incompetent. These are generally cases in which the firearm was confiscated during arrest, rather than surrendered later because of an order to surrender weapons entered by the court.

At the time of conviction of certain misdemeanors, among them domestic violence-assault, coercion, stalking, reckless endangerment or criminal trespassing in the first degree, the court informs the defendant that based upon the conviction, they have lost their right to possess a firearm.

The defendant may petition the Superior Court to restore their firearms rights after three years if they have no new criminal law violations and have completed the conditions of the sentence on the case.

If police develop probable cause that someone who was supposed to have surrendered their firearms in fact, has not, police may petition for and obtain a search warrant to go in and get the weapon or weapons.

“How do you know that the person has any weapons, or is it just speculation?” asked Deputy Mayor Bob Baggett.

“A lot of times that’s how crimes do start, as we speculate that something’s going on and we begin to investigate. We’ll use credible witnesses … or undercover operations … or a lot of times they’ll put themselves on social media, holding a gun,” Pierson said.

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