DeLeo endorses ‘red flag’ bill to temporarily seize guns if owner poses a threat

Supporters of a gun-control bill that’s before the House joined Wednesday’s press conference about the legislation.
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Supporters of a gun-control bill that’s before the House joined Wednesday’s press conference about the legislation.

CAMBRIDGE — Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Wednesday expressed support for a bill that would allow a judge to temporarily seize guns from someone who might pose a danger to themselves and others, pushing for a vote later this month.

“This isn’t about politics; it’s not about scoring more points or partisanship,” DeLeo said at a news conference at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. “It’s about protecting our students, and it’s about preventing crises.”

The bill, sponsored by Representative Marjorie Decker of Cambridge, would let family members or housemates ask a judge to immediately take away weapons, ammunition, and licenses if a gun owner shows unstable or potentially dangerous behavior.


At a later court session, the judge would rule whether the order should stay in place for a year.

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In 2014, Massachusetts enacted a gun-safety law allowing police to deny a permit for a rifle or shotgun if the applicant could pose a public safety risk. While the bill ultimately saw several changes pushed by gun-advocacy groups, the new legislation would enable households to join the effort to prevent potentially harmful behavior.

So-called “red-flag” laws gained momentum after a Feb. 14 shooting killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Last month, students from Somerville High School and other area schools pushed for the gun-control bill by blitzing DeLeo’s phone lines for 17 minutes, in memory of each of the slain students.

Gracie Thompson, a Rindge and Latin student, said the prevalence of school shootings has changed the feeling of safety in the classroom.

“Children are now taught from a young age to protect themselves in the event of an active shooter,” said Thompson, a 10th-grader. “It makes me furious that we have to do that.”


Decker, who also spoke at Wednesday’s press conference, stressed the importance of gun-related suicides. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly two-thirds of gun-related deaths are suicides.

Decker pointed out Harvard student Reed Shafer-Ray, who spoke about the importance of gun legislation last January after his friend committed suicide. “It’s really amazing to go from talking about these issues in your living room to seeing change in a bill,” Shafer-Ray said. “When you have something meaningful to say, people will support you.”

Gun Owners Action League, a Massachusetts affiliate of the National Rifle Association, said Wednesday that the bill falls short of addressing the mental-health concerns of suicide. The group recently proposed an alternative to the legislation that would establish a suicide-prevention hot line and a commission for suicide prevention.

“Gun prohibitionists [are] rejoicing over their efforts to drag gun owners into court with no due process, strip their rights, then send them home,’’ the league said in a tweet. “Selling this as a means of helping people with mental health issues is a travesty, selling it as ‘crime prevention’ is a flat-out lie.”

After originating in the House committee on Public Safety and Homeland security, the proposed legislation will move to the Committee on Ways and Means, where it could see several more changes before House and Senate votes.


Senate President Harriette L.Chandler, of Worcester, said she was happy the House will be taking up Decker’s legislation and looked forward to debating the bill in the Senate.

Senator Barbara L’Italien, Democrat of Andover, said the bill “would save lives” and that she was awed by the young activists who helped make it possible

Governor Charlie Baker has not publicly declared his stance on the legislation. However, Baker encouraged governors of other states to adopt many of Massachusetts’ gun regulations at a National Governors Association meeting in February.

“Governor Baker believes Massachusetts’ effective gun laws are a model for the nation and supports a national assault weapons ban, and the administration is open to working with the Legislature to enhance existing laws to keep guns out of the hands of those unfit to possess them,” said Baker’s spokesman, Brendan Moss.

Jerome Campbell can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jeromercampbell.