‘Red flag’ gun bill clears Mass. legislative committee
A 19-member legislative committee Friday recommended passage of a bill that would authorize courts to prevent people from owning guns if the people are deemed dangerous.
Anti-gun-violence activists, including students and many citizen activists, have recently stepped up their push for the bill, arguing it would provide a safety check to prevent dangerous people from accessing certain deadly weapons.
There was no dissent on the The Joint Committee on Public Safety on Friday, according to a committee staffer.
The Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence said public opinion polling indicates support for the measure.
“It is abundantly clear that the people want their legislators to create a meaningful mechanism for intervention when a gun owner is determined to pose an extreme risk to themselves or others. We look forward to continuing to work with state legislators to move this bill forward to a House vote in the coming weeks,” coalition cochair Janet Goldenberg said in a statement.
Speaker Robert DeLeo had a role in the committee leadership’s decision to push for passage of the bill, according to the committee’s House chairman.
“After careful examination on the Committee level, productive meetings with Speaker DeLeo, survivors of gun violence, and hearing from countless individuals across the Commonwealth, we feel it is important to report this bill out favorably,” Representative Hank Naughton, a cochair of the committee, said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work on this with Speaker DeLeo, House members, and various stakeholders in an effort to keep public safety in the Commonwealth a priority.”
The extreme risk protection order bill gained momentum after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February. The Gun Owners Action League, the local affiliate of the National Rifle Association, opposes the measure, and the group’s executive director, Jim Wallace, said he would push to change the thrust of the bill as it moves through the legislative process.
Under GOAL’s proposal, the Department of Mental Health would establish a hotline for friends and family of people at risk of suicide and establish a process where anyone could petition the courts to confine someone to a mental health facility if that person presents “an extreme public safety risk.”
Those deemed dangerous could be committed for seven days for starters, and could subsequently be committed for up to two years and then up to five years, under GOAL’s proposal that Wallace said would apply to the “very small number of people who cannot walk amongst us.”
“We’re talking about the extreme cases, so let’s talk about these extreme cases,” Wallace told the News Service in a phone interview. He said, “There is a very small number of people who just cannot handle society.”
The proposed hotline would be superior to existing suicide hotlines because the operators would educate people about their legal options, Wallace said. The bill would also establish a commission to examine the state’s mental health needs.
The committee declined to provide a breakdown of how its members voted on Rep. Marjorie Decker’s extreme risk protection order bill (H 3610), but an aide said all members of the committee participated in the voting.