Lawmakers mull ‘red flag’ gun bill after Florida shooting
BOSTON (AP) — Preemptively disarming individuals who display unstable or potentially dangerous behavior could help prevent future mass shootings, according to supporters of a so-called “red flag” bill pending before a state legislative committee.
The measure would allow a family member or law enforcement officer concerned that a legal gun owner “poses a significant risk of causing personal injury to self or others,” to petition a judge to issue an extreme risk protection order. Such an order would prevent the individual from possessing or purchasing firearms for one year.
The bill is sensible and uncomplicated according to its chief sponsor, Democratic Rep. Marjorie Decker, of Cambridge.
“Someone who is in need of help should not have a gun if in fact their behaviors point to the fact they are going to hurt themselves or hurt others,” said Decker.
Similar red flag proposals have been gaining traction in legislatures around the country in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead. The alleged gunman, Nikolas Cruz, had posted disturbing comments on social media and was described as dangerous and threatening by former classmates and even his mother.
Rhode Island Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo recently signed an executive order directing law enforcement to use all existing legal steps to remove firearms from those who pose a threat, while lawmakers are considering a red flag bill backed by the state’s police chiefs.
States where some type of red flag law was previously in place include California, Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon and Washington.
Yet in Massachusetts, a state with some of the nation’s toughest gun control laws and lowest firearm death rates, approval is far from certain.
Decker’s bill had been in play before the Florida massacre. One week earlier, on Feb. 7, the Legislature’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee sought and was granted an extension until April 15 to report on the measure. A favorable report would greatly enhance its prospects for passage.
Some contend that laws already in place in Massachusetts render the bill unnecessary, or, at best, duplicative. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker noted his state is among the few that give local police chiefs discretion over the granting of licenses to carry firearms to individuals within their communities, and the ability to suspend those licenses if circumstances change.
“We should always be interested in considering other alternatives as well,” Baker told reporters this past week. “But I think the fact that Massachusetts is one of the few states where you have to work this process through your local police chief has given us a real leg up on gun safety and it shows up on our statistics.”
State law also permits weapons to be confiscated upon issuance by a court of a domestic violence restraining order. But such protections don’t always account for sudden and dramatic changes in behavior, Decker contends.
“OK, so a year ago that person was OK,” she said. “Today, local law enforcement or a family member believes they are not OK, (so) there needs to be a law in place.”
Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo has also suggested that current procedures might accomplish the same objectives as the bill, though neither DeLeo nor Baker has taken a firm stance against it.
The Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association, strongly opposes the measure, calling it unfair to law-abiding gun owners and potentially dangerous to the public.
“It is extraordinarily cruel for the law to treat a person who is suicidal or depressed in the same manner as a potential mass murderer, then deprive them of their civil rights and then send them back into society with no help or structured support system — but that is what these bills do,” GOAL said in a statement.