A major Massachusetts police organization is supporting a bill that would let a family member petition a judge remove someone’s gun.
The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association sent a letter on Thursday to legislators in support of the Extreme Risk Protection Order bill, H.3610.
“ERPO represents a reasonable, common-sense approach to reducing gun violence and helps redirect at-risk individuals to counseling and assistance,” Steven Wojnar, president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and Dudley chief of police, wrote in the letter.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Marjorie Decker, D-Cambridge, would let a family member go to court and ask a judge to temporarily take away someone’s gun because they pose a danger to themselves or someone else. Within two weeks, the person would have a right to a full court hearing to determine whether the protective order should remain in place for up to a year.
Today, local police chiefs can revoke a gun license that they issued, but family members cannot go directly to the courts.
In an interview, Wojnar said family members are the ones who interact with a person on a daily basis. “They’d know best if somebody is in need of some kind of assistance,” Wojner said. Wojnar said the bill would provide family members with “an extra tool” to help someone in crisis avoid harming themselves or others, particularly if the family does not want to go to the police.
Janet Goldenberg, co-chair of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, said when the Legislature passed a major gun bill in 2014, an endorsement by law enforcement was a deciding factor. “When folks understood the people who put their lives on the line every day to safeguard our communities think that this is an important piece of legislation to help them in that work, I think it’s very influential and should be,” Goldenberg said.
The bill was recently reported out of a legislative committee with a favorable recommendation. It will be up to House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, to decide whether to bring it up for a vote in the House.
DeLeo said his staff spoke to the Chiefs of Police Association Monday. “Despite the fact of what we had done a couple of years ago providing one of the strongest gun violence laws in the country…I think there is strong interest now in terms of taking that extra step forward,” DeLeo said.
DeLeo would not commit to whether he would bring the bill to a vote. “Stay tuned on that,” he said.
Massachusetts already has some of the nation’s strongest gun control laws. During a national push for stronger gun control after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the so-called “red flag” bill became the focus of advocacy in Massachusetts.
The Gun Owners Action League opposes the bill, arguing that it will take someone in crisis, drag them into court, anger them, then let them go free without medical care, potentially making the situation worse. GOAL is instead proposing the creation of a state-run suicide prevention hotline with follow-up intervention. GOAL also wants to give judges expanded authority to civilly commit someone with mental illness for treatment.