Op-ed: House Passes “Red Flag” Law to Empower Families to Prevent Gun Violence

By Local State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez

We in Massachusetts understand that strong, common sense gun laws save lives. That’s why we affirmed our assault weapons ban in 2004, passed comprehensive gun laws in 2014, and banned bump stocks last fall. And as a result, we have the lowest rate of gun deaths in the country.

I am proud to build on our efforts by voting for An Act Relative to Firearms in May. This “red flag” legislation empowers families, household members, and law enforcement to prevent gun tragedies by reducing access to guns for individuals at an elevated risk of endangering themselves or others.

Our legislation does this by creating a process for courts to grant an extreme risk protective order (ERPO).

Under this bill, family members, roommates, current and former romantic partners, and police officials could petition a court to take away a gun owner’s weapons for up to a year, if the individual poses a threat to self or others.

Once a court issues an ERPO, the court must then send it to the licensing authority. The licensing authority must then serve the individual with the ERPO and seize their license to carry, FID, and any guns/ammunition, if the person is carrying them. If the individual is not carrying those items when served, they have 8 hours to surrender the items to the licensing authority.

The bill includes a range of due process protections for licensees, including a requirement for the court to hold a hearing within ten days of a petition being filed. Respondents will be able to use all existing statutory law remedies to demonstrate that they are not at risk, including legal counsel and the appeal process.

We know ERPOs or “red flags” can save lives. 55 percent of gun deaths in Massachusetts are suicides. A study conducted by Everytown for Gun Safety found that in at least 42 percent of mass shootings, the attacker exhibited dangerous signals before the shooting. This legislation allows others to intervene and take a gun before someone makes an irreversible decision. Combined with investments in the recently-passed House budget for suicide prevention and mental health services, we can make a real impact on the lives of people in our community.

We want to prevent the next school shooting from happening in our neighborhood. We want to empower families and roommates to intervene if a loved one is at risk of committing suicide. And we want people to have the ability to speak up to stop gun violence. This legislation is another tool in our vast toolbox to ensure safety throughout Massachusetts.

I am incredibly proud to support this legislation, and am grateful for the leadership of Speaker DeLeo, my colleagues in the House, students, advocates, and so many others for working to pass this bill. It is encouraging to see students taking the lead on such an important issue, and I am hopeful for the future. Together, we have taken a meaningful step to prevent gun violence in Massachusetts.

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