Mass. House passes bill to strip guns from people seen as a danger

Invoking the memories of school shooting victims, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would give judges the power to strip weapons from individuals flagged as a danger to themselves or others.

The legislation, approved 139 to 14, would allow family members, roommates, current and former romantic partners, and police officials to petition a court to take away a gun owner’s weapons for a year.

A version of the bill is poised to become law over the vociferous objections of the National Rifle Association and local gun owners. The state Senate, controlled by Democrats, and Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, have expressed support for such “red flag” legislation, even though they haven’t weighed in on the specific wording in the House bill.


Advocates of the legislation spoke with emotion about doing everything possible to save lives.

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“We want our children to come home from elementary school. We want our children to come home from high school. We want them to come home from a university. We, as adults, want to come home from a concert alive. We want to come home from a nightclub alive,” Representative Marjorie C. Decker, the lead sponsor of the bill, told her colleagues from the floor of the House.

“There are moments in people’s lives where they do need to be separated from their guns and their ammunition,” she said.

But the NRA decried the bill as a gun grab.

It would “allow firearms to be seized from individuals following baseless accusations without proper due process,” the lobbying arm of the powerful group said Tuesday.


And several Republican representatives decried the bill as deeply flawed. On Wednesday, they pushed for an amendment that would have mandated anyone who had their weapons taken away by a “red flag” court order get a mental health assessment within 48 hours.

If the House is going to pass the extreme risk protection order legislation, said Representative Paul K. Frost of Auburn, then it ought to make sure people who are subject to the order get help.

“If you have gone before a judge and you are deemed to be a danger to other people or yourself, then you should be getting services,” the Republican said.

But Democrats said the effort was unnecessary because laws and resources already exist to protect and help people struggling with mental illness. The amendment was rejected.

Movement on the legislation follows several recent mass school shootings, including one in Santa Fe, Texas, last week.


Eight states — California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — have enacted similar laws, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, though the details of each law vary.

‘There are moments in people’s lives where they do need to be separated from their guns.’

Under the Massachusetts House bill, a hearing would be held within 10 days of a petition being filed for an extreme risk protection order.

At the hearing, a judge would weigh the information presented by the gun owner and the person alleging he or she is a risk. The judge would determine whether “a preponderance of the evidence” shows that the gun owner poses a risk of bodily harm by having a gun.

If an order were issued, it would be valid for a year and the person’s guns and ability to legally acquire others would be taken away.

Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat, cheered the legislation’s passage Wednesday evening.

“I’m proud of the members of the House for passing this bill, which will save lives,” he said. “In Massachusetts, we have the most effective gun laws in the nation. Now, we have a new way to keep people safe and prevent senseless tragedies.”

Advocates say the bill dovetails with the state’s current gun control laws that empower police chiefs to suspend or revoke someone’s license to have a gun if the chief believes the person is no longer suitable to be a firearms owner because the person may be a risk to public safety.

Now, advocates say, family members and romantic partners will also have a clear legal mechanism to flag a gun owner who they believe poses a risk.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Massachusetts had 242 firearm deaths in 2016. That meant 3.4 deaths per 100,000 people, a lower rate than for any other state, according to the CDC.

Joshua Miller can be reached at