Bills Before Mass. Lawmakers Aim To Help Police Take Guns From People Deemed An ‘Extreme Risk’

Mar 2, 2018
Originally published on March 1, 2018 7:02 pm

Massachusetts lawmakers are considering measures to give police more authority to confiscate guns from residents.

Under two bills up for debate, police could take guns away from people who are believed to be an “extreme risk” of suicide or violence to others.

Some gun rights activists say that would end up unfairly labeling people who are mentally ill, keeping them from ever owning guns again.

Five states already have such laws, and several others are considering them.

WBUR All Things Considered host Lisa Mullins spoke with Natick Rep. David Linsky, a Democrat who’s sponsored one of the bills, and Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts.

Linsky says under the law he’s proposing, a doctor, a police officer, or someone who lives with a gun owner could seek an “extreme risk protective order” and sometimes get it within minutes.

Interview highlights:

Rep. David Linsky:

A judge would review the evidence in the application, and a judge could issue an [extreme risk protection] order for up to 10 days. The police department would go to that person and seize all of that person’s firearms. And then within 10 days, the person would get a full hearing … where he can present evidence if he wants to, he can challenge evidence he wants to — it’s a full hearing. The district court judge would decide whether or not that order should stay in effect for up to one year.

A police chief does, in fact, have the right to suspend or take away a person’s gun permit in Massachusetts [currently]. However, that doesn’t give the police the right to seize the guns that that person already has. In order to do that, [police] have to then apply for a search warrant to enter the home in order to get whatever guns the person has. What happens in that type of situation is you have created a very volatile situation. The person knows that the police have suspended his gun permit, they have certainly increased the tension level, and the person still has his guns.

Jim Wallace:

What [such a law] does is supposedly seek people who have mental health issues and take away their guns. Now, we don’t want anybody that’s dangerous to have access to guns, or anything else, for that matter. But the manner in which [the proposed law] treats people with mental health [issues] is very cruel and actually dangerous, because it treats people who can get through a temporary crisis with some counseling, a good support system, and some love and care, the same way as it treats identifying the next sociopath. People — once they go down that road — that’s going to exacerbate the situation. You’ve taken somebody with a temporary problem, dragged them through a court process, embarrassed them, and identified them as somebody who’s extremely dangerous.

I actually just talked to a police chief … and he told me, ‘What I would do under [current Massachusetts] law is if I believe this person was a danger, I would go to their home with a letter revoking their license, ask them to surrender their guns, and if they refused to surrender their guns, I would leave an officer at the home while I went and got a warrant, which would probably take me about an hour, and I would be back with a warrant and take their guns.

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