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KNKX, along with NPR, will bring you all the information you will need as we close in on Election Day 2016. Stay up to date with local and national issues along with stories about how this election cycle will affect you and your family here in Washington and around the world.Also be sure to check out our series on Sound Transit's Proposition 1, also known as Sound Transit 3. You can read more about ST3 and this series here. Be sure to stay up-to-date with our national coverage too by clicking here.

Wash. Gun Initiative Aims To Keep Guns Away From People Who Would Harm Themselves Or Others

Jeff Roberson
AP Photo
In this Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014 photo, handguns sit in a glass display case at Metro Shooting Supplies, in Bridgeton, Mo.

Keeping guns out of the hands of people who are a danger to themselves or others is the goal of Washington Initiative 1491 on the ballot this election. But opponents worry it will further stigmatize mental illness. One Mother's Story

On a June day in 2015, Marilyn Balcerak faced what no mother should ever have to. She and her husband, Matt, were about to go out golfing when she went to wake up her stepdaughter, Brianna.

“So I walked up the stairs and I opened up her door and she was lying on the floor with blood on her bed and on the wall. I screamed for Matt and I just knew she was dead,” Balcerak said.

When her husband got to the room, he discovered Balcerak's 23-year-old son, James, also lying on the floor dead with a gun on his chest. James had apparently killed Brianna.

“He had shot Brianna in the head while she slept and then he had shot himself," Balcerak said.

Warning Signs

Before the murder suicide, Balcerak says she knew her son was troubled; he’d threatened to kill himself before. She says she had tried desperately to keep him from legally possessing a gun, but was told by the police and the courts there was little they could do.

Balcerak is the citizen sponsor of I-1491.

What The Initiative Would Do

Initiative 1491 would allow concerned family members, police and others to go to court and quickly obtain an extreme risk protection order. That would allow for the person in crisis to be temporarily prevented from possessing a firearm. Balcerak says, in her son’s case, it would have made all the difference.

“This would have given me the tool to keep the gun out of his hand," she said.

Opponents Say I-1491 Sends Wrong Message About Mental Illness

People opposed to Initiative 1491 say, even if well intentioned, passing such a law will reinforce a misperception about people living with mental illness.

Mental health advocate David Combs says he’s concerned the initiative allows a gun to be taken away from someone because they are exhibiting mental illness.

”There’s just this association when I talk with people that go, 'Oh, let’s get rid of the crazy people and that will solve our problems,' and I think that’s a false belief and one that I’m very concerned continues to be perpetrated,” Combs said.

Concern About Due Process

Combs, who has bipolar disorder, worries about the rights of people like himself. The initiative, he says, is too broad and would allow even roommates to petition to have someone’s right to own a gun temporarily taken away.

“So there’s a lot of concern about due process and the low bar as far as what needs to be required in order to execute the order,” Combs said.

Proponents insist there are enough due process protections in place for people suffering from mental illness pointing out that no matter who petitions the court, a judge still has to decide each case individually.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.