Massachusetts judges have issued a half-dozen orders stripping firearms from people identified as being dangers to themselves or others since a new so-called red flag law passed last summer, state court officials said.
In all, courts handled seven petitions for an “extreme risk protective order” over seven-plus months, according to the first data the state’s released since the law went into effect in July. In just one of the instances, a petition was denied after a court hearing.
The measure — which, like in other states, gained steam on Beacon Hill following last year’s mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school — gives judges the power to issue orders taking away a person’s guns after a family member, current or former romantic partner, housemate, or local police official identifies them as a danger. That includes before that person has a chance to make his or her case.
During its passage, the law was hailed as life-saving measure that could close a gap in even Massachusetts’ famously tight gun laws. That it’s been used relatively sparingly shows it was designed only for situations where it’s “absolutely necessary,” state Representative David P. Linsky, who helped push the legislation.
“We never expected there to be a large number of these petitions,” said Linsky, who cautioned that given the law is relatively new, the public and the police still may not be “familiar” with it as an option.
“Before we draw any grand conclusion, let’s let the law be in place a little longer,” Linsky said.
The eight-page report compiled by the Trial Court and filed in the Legislature on Monday does not include many specifics about the individual orders, including the exact circumstances, details about what types of weapons may have been surrendered, or for how long an order to surrender was issued.
“I think the initial look is it’s hopeful,” State Representative Marjorie C. Decker, another of the law’s sponsors, said of the data. “We hoped that this would be a tool that’s available. These are people who reasonably feared that someone in their home would cause harm to themselves or someone. It’s not a large one. But it’s important that the law exists.”
The law allows the courts to issue emergency orders, and the report shows that six orders were issued after an “emergency hearing.” That share jumped out to gun rights advocates.
“The people who got served never even knew what was going on until someone knocked on their door to confiscate their property. And that concerns us,” said Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners’ Action League of Massachusetts. “It’s not a lot [of orders], but it still bears scrutiny.”
The law also includes penalties for those who file petitions with “materially false” information, though Trial Court officials said they didn’t have any that were “judicially determined to be fraudulent.”
Hearings on petitions have been held in eight district courts since last year, including in Quincy, Ayer, Milford, Hingham, Malden, Holyoke, Wareham, and Brockton, according to data from a Trial Court spokeswoman.
Massachusetts is one of 13 states with a “red flag” law or something similar, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, with many of those passing legislation in the wake of the February 2018 Parkland shooting.
It wasn’t clear Monday how the number of petitions in Massachusetts stack up to each state.
In Oregon, for example, The Oregonian/OregonLive found 27 instances in which a person sought a no-guns order in the first four months after that state’s law establishing extreme risk protection orders went into effect in 2018. Judges ordered that guns be taken away in 24 of them.