Alyssa Shaw’s job is to guide Seattle-area residents through what can be one of the most wrenching and complicated experiences of their lives: petitioning civil courts to temporarily take away the firearms of a loved one in a mental health crisis who may harm themselves or others.

Washington state’s extreme risk protection order law—often called a red flag law—has been on the books for five years, but most Washingtonians don’t know the law exists, let alone the details of the petitioning process, said Shaw, the state’s first red flag law advocate. Often, people find out about the law only after they call the police to report that a family or household member is making threats or is experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Shaw thinks of herself as a translator of the legal system. She walks family or household members through the petition process, often gathering background information about the person who might be a threat, asking whether the petitioner feels safe and connecting them with community resources.

“Families need support and it just makes the most sense that if we’re trying to prevent tragedies from happening, that shouldn’t just be on the backs of family members,” said Shaw, who works in a multi-agency unit that includes the Seattle City Attorney’s Office and the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. “We need to be providing all the support we can.”

Red flag laws have become an increasingly popular tool to prevent mass shootings, suicides and deadly domestic violence. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted them, sometimes with bipartisan support. Fourteen of those laws came after the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida—a catalyzing event that led to a wave of gun restrictions nationwide.

Read the full article about saving lives by Matt Vasilogambros at The 74.