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Capital Source

Mr. Speaker: You have a call on line 1. And 2. And 3 . . .

House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office — and that of two other legislative leaders — was flooded with calls pushing what supporters call a “red flag” gun-control bill.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office — and that of two other legislative leaders — was flooded with calls pushing what supporters call a “red flag” gun-control bill.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File 2018

The first phone rang at 10 a.m. inside House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo’s office, delivering a seemingly innocuous call in support of a piece of legislation.

The next dozen calls — crowded in the span of just a few moments — made clear this was anything but normal business.

Over 17 minutes Wednesday morning, students from Somerville High School and other area schools orchestrated an old-fashioned phonebank blitz, flooding DeLeo’s office — and that of two other legislative leaders — with calls pushing what supporters call a “red flag” gun-control bill.

The legislation, filed by state Representative Marjorie Decker, a Cambridge Democrat, would allow local law enforcement or a family member to petition a court for an “extreme risk protection order” to let police revoke the firearms license, including for up to a year, of someone considered a danger.

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The bill has picked up waves of support in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., shooting in which 17 people were killed. Since the February massacre, some of the most vocal activism for new gun control laws has come from some of the state’s youngest voices.

Led by sophomores Jack Torres and Laura-Luiza Cabral Gouvea, Somerville students have helped organize town halls, written letters, and led walkouts to bring attention to gun control. The students have also pushed DeLeo and the two chairs of the Legislature’s public safety committee to get behind Decker’s bill, officially known as H.3610.

The legislation faces a Sunday deadline to move out of committee, and, as of Wednesday, they said they had yet to get a clear answer.

“We’ve been doing the steady trickle of phone calls and letters. And the last few Wednesdays we’ve been e-mailing them to see if we can get a meeting,” Torres said. “But sometimes we would walk in and ask if there’s been progress made or if there are concrete steps to talk about it with other members of the House. And we’d get, ‘Well, we can’t really speak to the progress we’re making.’ ”

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Cue the phone calls. Over the 17-minute span — in honor of those killed in Florida — 60 to 80 students, using a prewritten script and their cellphones, stepped out of class and started dialing, Torres said.

An aide to Representative Hank Naughton, the House public safety chair, said his office received 30 phone calls Wednesday morning — and 185 over the last week.

The office of Senator Michael O. Moore, Naughton’s counterpart, got 50 calls in 17 minutes, according to Shelly MacNeill, Moore’s chief of staff. Twenty-six of those went to voicemail.

“We couldn’t keep up,” MacNeill said. “There were five of us on the phones taking those calls.”

In DeLeo’s office, a calm, midweek morning of budget briefings with reporters quickly erupted into a din of ringing phones. The three assistants manning the lines were almost immediately overrun, and at one point — as it became apparent this was a coordinated effort — one of them wondered aloud why the kids weren’t in class.

And all the while, the calls kept coming, and DeLeo’s staff kept answering.

(Ring, ring) “Are you calling on House bill 3610? You’re in favor, right?”

(Ring, ring) “I’ll put you on the list.”

(Ring, ring) “Honey, you don’t have to read off the rest of it . . . ”

“It’s going to be one of those days today,” one of the assistants called to another in an adjoining room.

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The second aide shrugged. “I’m used to them.”

The shock-and-awe of the campaign indeed did not go unnoticed. But the question remains whether it’s enough to push the bill out of committee and keep its prospects afloat.

DeLeo, who led a 2014 overhaul of several aspects of the state’s already stringent gun laws, has not given a definitive stance on Decker’s bill, though his office said it’s had “incredibly productive conversations” in recent weeks.

“As H.3610 moves through the legislative process, Speaker DeLeo continues to focus on suicide prevention efforts,” said Whitney Ferguson, a DeLeo spokeswoman, on Thursday.

Moore is in favor of reporting it out of committee, according to his staff. And Alyssa Ring, a Naughton spokeswoman, said lawmakers on the public safety committee are being polled on the bill.

Its fate could be decided as early as Friday — the last business day before time runs out for the committee to consider it.


Reach Matt Stout at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on twitter @mattpstout