One day in late May, the Seattle Police Department knocked in Brian Smith’s door and did exactly what many Second Amendment advocates call their worst fear: They came for his guns.
They were able to do that because of a relatively new Washington State "red flag" law that allows the government to seize firearms from a person who has been deemed to be a danger to himself or others — even if he is otherwise legally able to own guns. It's called an extreme risk protection order (ERPO), and it’s one of the only types of gun-control legislation to make it through state legislatures lately. Earlier this month, Illinois became the 13th state to sign one into law.
In Washington, gun rights advocates have so far been relatively quiet about the law. The Seattle Police have seized guns from two dozen people under the legislation so far, and advocates say they are mostly watching to see how the process actually works.
Instead, the strongest notes of concern have come from two unlikely sources: the ACLU, which worries the law will disproportionally affect minorities and the poor; and mental health advocates, who say they worry the law could be used to seize guns from people perceived as a danger only because of their mental conditions.
In the case of Brian Smith, he's been found to exhibit signs of alcoholism and delusional disorder. But the police insist their case is based on more than just that. (Smith refutes the mental health evaluation, which came in the form of a court assessment during a separate criminal case.) They first came into contact with him after a neighbor reported that he was recklessly playing with a loaded handgun in his backyard while drinking, and they say they've documented other incidents of unsafe behavior. The police eventually seized eight firearms from him, per a two-week temporary order that was then extended for another two weeks.
VICE News was there when they went to court to argue that the ERPO should be extended for a full year, and visited with Smith in his home, to find out what it felt like to be on the receiving end of modern-day gun seizure.
This segment originally aired July 24, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.