The Massachusetts legislature has passed H.4517, a bill that allows for the temporary removal of firearms from people who are considered "high risk."
“I’m proud of the members of the House for passing this bill which will save lives,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo 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. I thank Chairman Naughton, Representative Decker, my colleagues in the House and the students who raised their voices for their work on this crucial, life-saving measure.”
Representative David Linsky said Massachusetts is proof that strong, common sense gun laws work.
“As State Representatives, our first, and most important, job is to protect the citizens that we represent... Consistently, we see a powerful correlation: states with stronger gun laws have fewer gun deaths per capita," said Rep. Linsky. "By passing H.4517 today, we continued our commitment to ensuring Massachusetts remains the safest state in the nation when it comes to gun violence.”
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The legislation establishes Extreme Risk Protective Orders in Massachusetts, which allows family members and law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily suspend a person's access to firearms if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others.
“The majority of gun deaths are self-inflicted – the easy availability of firearms to those in distress makes suicide attempts far more lethal. But these tragedies are preventable,” said Representative Linsky. “Most (90-percent) people who attempt suicide without a gun in both the short and long term do not go on to die by suicide. Suicide attempts are usually impulsive responses to acute crises; and, those who reach for a gun in these moments of crisis rarely have that second chance. An ERPO creates a mechanism for family members and law enforcement to temporarily prevent access to guns, or purchase of new guns, by individuals who pose an elevated risk at endangering themselves or others."
According to a Duke University study, an estimated 76 lives were saved in Connecticut in the first 14 years of implementation of their ERPO-style law.
“As adults, we have the responsibility to make our country a safer place for our children and grandchildren. If we cannot agree to demand that our children and grandchildren’s lives be prioritized over powerful special interests, than what good are we? At the end of the day, we should all have one goal – reducing gun violence and doing everything in our power to prevent more tragedies from happening,” said Rep. Linsky. “Congress has the ability to pass federal legislation to prevent future tragedies from continuing to happen. But if Congress won’t do it at the federal level, then we must continue to do it at the state level. I am proud of my colleagues in the Massachusetts legislature for standing up today and continuing to fight back. We will not allow gun violence to be accepted as the new normal in our country.”
While supporters of the legislation say the bill will help make Massachusetts communities safer and prevent future mass shootings, opponents say it will confiscate guns while not dealing with mental health concerns.
"This legislation is not about taking guns away from law-abiding gun owners, but rather removing guns from a dangerous situation," Linsky said. "It is about saving lives.”
Critics had urged lawmakers to vote against the bill.
"They actually changed the title of the bill. The title of the bill was about extreme risk protection order, suicide prevention. They changed the bill title to it’s an act relative to firearms," said Jim Wallace, Executive Director of Gun Owners’ Action League.
Democratic Representative Marjorie Decker, the lead sponsor of the so-called "red flag" bill, calls it a "measured and reasonable approach" to help save lives.
"If you think someone in your home is going to kill themselves, hurt themselves or hurt other people with their gun, my law, once it's passed, will allow the court to access evidence, decide whether or not that’s true and separate someone from their guns," Decker said.
A year-and-a-half ago, Reed Shafer Ray, a senior at Harvard at the time, called Rep. Decker after the death of his friend.
Shafer Ray's 24-year-old friend had ended his life.
"It was extremely tragic," Shafer Ray said. "It was only more tragic because it felt like the parents knew it was coming and there was nothing they could have done."
Shafer Ray asked Rep. Decker what could be done to prevent that tragedy from happening to another family.
"This is about saving people's lives and making sure there's that intervention."
Once a petition is filed in court, guns would be taken away for a year if the judge finds the evidence credible.
"You know, we need to be able to keep guns away from people who are in a state of crisis. We want to prevent tragedies and keep our kids safe," said Molly Malloy, who is with Moms Demand Action.
Wallace says the legislation does little to address the issue of mental illness. He calls is a "boiled down gun confiscation bill."
"And that's sad because we had a great opportunity here to really do something about suicides and preventing the next mass killer and it turned just into a gun bill."
For Shafer Ray, it's more than a gun bill. It's a chance to stop another tragedy.
"I feel like it's a dream come true that it's even gotten this far."
H.4517 passed the Massachusetts House by a vote of 139-14. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.