Community members gathered at the State House Thursday in support of a proposed bill that would give family members, caregivers and health care providers in Massachusetts the ability to file for a temporary extreme risk protective order.
The rally was organized before the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people died on Feb. 14. However, the shooting called more people and organizations to action to fight for this legislation, including Attorney General Maura Healey, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.
This written protective order would prohibit someone deemed at risk from having, using or purchasing any firearms or ammunition for a period of 10 days. In that time period, a hearing would be held in which the person filing for the ban and the respondent would both have the opportunity to present evidence to make their case.
If the respondent is not deemed to be of danger to anyone, the ban is lifted. If they are determined to be a risk, the ban will continue for a year. During that period, the respondent can file a request to have the ban lifted, during which time they will have the opportunity to make their case at another hearing.
The original order is issued by an on-call judge who will read the filed report. Once the order is issued, law enforcement will confiscate all firearms and ammunition from the respondent for the initial period of 10 days.
This bill is not only meant to keep the public safe, but moreover, save people from themselves, said Massachusetts Rep. David Linsky, the presenter of the bill.
“Very frequently, when someone is planning on or thinking about committing suicide or committing a horrible act with a firearm, they tell people about it,” Linsky said.
Under current Massachusetts statute, law enforcement aren’t able to confiscate any firearms or ammunition if they received a complaint. Linsky said this issue likely contributed to the recent school shooting in Florida.
Police had been called to the home of Nikolas Cruz, the shooter, several times during the past several years. However, Cruz was a legal owner who had never committed any crimes, rendering the authorities powerless, Linsky said.
“It’s unfortunate that the FBI or the local government [are] being blamed here,” Linsky said. “They couldn’t do anything anyway.”
Muna Jama, 32, of the South End, said gun violence is connected with mental health, referencing Cruz.
“I think this boy wanted to hurt people, to get something out,” Jama said. “He would have found another way to hurt people, using a gun or not.”
Jim Wallace, the executive director of the Gun Owners’ Action League, said in practice, he thinks the bill would be an “incredibly cruel and dangerous piece of legislation.”
The legislation will only exacerbate gun violence, Wallace said, potentially making respondents more angry and dangerous without any guarantee they will seek help.
Wallace said also said people don’t need guns to harm themselves or others if they’re truly determined to do so, citing the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, which was carried out with the use of an incendiary device.
“If we’re going to do this, it absolutely has to be a very comprehensive piece of legislation,” Wallace said.
Wallace said people deemed to be extreme public safety risks should not have access to firearms, but it shouldn’t just stop there.
“They also shouldn’t have access to anything else they can cause harm with,” Wallace said. “For instance, if you are deemed by the court an extreme mental health public safety risk, can you still practice medicine? Can you drive a tractor?”
Olivia Barry, 37, of the Chinatown Leather District, said measures should be taken so children should do not have to worry about their safety in schools.
“We need to get serious about keeping these guns out of children’s hands,” Barry said. “I want there to be a day where we don’t have to have drills and PSAs in schools about how to survive a school shooting.”
Edward Robert, 58, of Back Bay, said those who strongly argue for anti-gun policies are often misinformed and motivated by feelings of grief. Therefore, there should be a more nuanced and balanced approach to gun control, he said.
“We can’t have a gun-free zone [in] America,” Robert said. “Countries like Japan where that’s been the norm since day one make it work, but that can’t happen here. We already have guns out and about. What we need is to make getting guns harder and to close the loopholes.”