Alaska lawmakers weigh gun protective orders

March 1, 2018

Alaska state Rep. Geran Tarr testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, in Juneau, Alaska. Tarr, a Democrat from Anchorage, spoke on legislation that she is sponsoring that would allow authorities to temporarily take guns from people who are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The recent deadly shooting at a Florida high school prompted Alaska lawmakers to review a bill that would let authorities temporarily take guns from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

While the bill has been pending for more than a year, it got its first hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, receiving strong support during a public comment period. Response among committee members was mixed.

Committee Chairman Matt Claman said formal requests must be made for a bill to be heard, and he doesn’t think one was made until after the shooting.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Geran Tarr, a fellow Anchorage Democrat, said she thought her office had submitted a request last year but is glad the measure is being heard.

Tarr, in an interview, said it is “a new day on these issues,” adding that in her 20 years in Alaska, she has not seen students hold walk-outs in the numbers they have across Alaska to honor those who died in the Florida school shooting or call for action in response to the violence.

“This is something that’s really struck a chord with people and there’s a real demand for action,” she said.

Five states currently have laws allowing for gun violence protection orders, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Alaska Legislature is roughly halfway through its scheduled 90-day session. If a bill passes the House, it still would face scrutiny in the more conservative Senate.

Claman sees the bill as a modest but smart first step and a good place to start a conversation on gun violence.

“You can literally take this bill and take the shooter in Florida and say, ‘Would this have made a difference?’ And I think you can say that this bill could have made a difference in that situation,” Claman said in an interview. “A police officer could have gone to the court and said, ‘We’re worried about this guy, and we think he has guns.’”

The bill would let immediate family members or police seek protective orders against those believed to be a danger to themselves or others by having access to a gun. Depending on the type of order, a person could be barred from having or attempting to buy a gun or ammunition from three days to as long as six months, though it could be dissolved earlier.

Under the measure, when an order is issued, the person would have to surrender any guns and ammunition they have or sell them to a gun dealer. Surrendered items would be returned once an order expires.

The bill was introduced in 2017 after an Anchorage man, Esteban Santiago, was accused of killing five people and injuring six in a shooting at a Florida airport.

Two months before the shooting, authorities have said, Santiago went to the FBI office in Anchorage and made disjointed comments about mind control before being taken in for a mental health evaluation. The gun he had in his vehicle when he went to the FBI office was later returned to him.

Santiago was previously charged in a domestic violence case.

Tarr said Wednesday that she had been mulling the bill as a way to address public safety concerns in neighborhoods she represents.

She also said the matter is personal for her, explaining she had a brother who died by suicide after being in “serious crisis” for about two years. He had interactions with police and spoke about committing “violent acts,” Tarr said. She said she didn’t have good tools to deal with that.

“And the only sense of relief I have is that, in the end, he only took his own life and no one else’s,” she said.

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