MA House Takes Action on Gun Safety...on to the Senate

Two weeks ago, the House passed the Extreme Risk Protection Order (“ERPO”) bill, also called the "red flag" bill, by an overwhelming 139-14 (Two Democrats--Colleen Garry and Jonathan Zlotnik--and 12 Republicans voted against it). Groups like Moms Demand Action and the Mass Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and the bill's lead sponsor Rep. Marjorie Decker put in a lot of work to make that happen.

What does the bill do? It creates a kind of court order that family members and law enforcement can request to temporarily restrict a person's access to guns because they pose a significant danger to themselves or others. When family members are empowered to act, they can prevent warning signs from turning into a mass shooting or gun suicide. Research has demonstrated that Connecticut’s Extreme Risk law has saved between 38 and 76 suicides.

Before the final vote, Democrats beat back a number of amendments that sought to deflect from the issue at hand (Republicans would like to talk about anything other than guns) or set higher standards than exist elsewhere in the judicial system.

Stigmatizing Mental Illness

Republican Nicholas Boldyga (R-Southwick) offered an amendment to require the state to provide a mental health assessment of an individual who receives an ERPO within 48 hours and, if deemed necessary, to create a mental health program for that individual. Democrats rightly argued that this would further serve to stigmatize mental illness, underscoring that the discussion is about guns, not mental health. Republicans only seem to care about mental health funding when it is used as a way to deflect from the issue of guns.

The amendment was rejected 42-109 (RC#352).  Eight Democrats joining the Republican caucus in supporting the amendment were Reps. DiZoglio, Dwyer, Garry, Pignatelli, J. Rogers, Stanley, Velis, and Zlotnik.

Republican Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk) offered an amendment to require that if a family member brings someone into court and the court decides said person is an extreme risk, it automatically triggers a Section 12, i.e., an emergency 3-day hospitalization. However, as Rep. Harold Naughton argued in the debate, this is a blunt instrument and may not always be appropriate, as some cases are not about mental health but about alcohol abuse or domestic violence.

The amendment was rejected 34-116 (RC#354). Democrats Dwyer and Garry again joined Republicans in voting for it. Republicans Harrington and Kelcourse joined Democrats in voting against it.

How Do You Get Republicans to Passionately Advocate for Court-Appointed Counsel…?

Republican Shauna O’Connell (R-Taunton) offered an amendment to require courts to notify the individual for whom an ERPO is filed of their right to retain counsel and to grant them court-appointed counsel if they cannot afford their own. The Gideon Supreme Court ruling maintained that individuals charged with serious crimes have a right to counsel.  Massachusetts only offers paid counsel in very limited cases for civil matters. Advocates for a civil right to counsel have focused on matters involving basic human needs -- such as shelter, sustenance, safety, health, and child custody. This amendment would effectively treat gun ownership as more important than those.

The amendment failed 36-117 (RC#355), with Democrats Dwyer and Garry again voting with Republicans.

Setting Uniquely High Evidentiary Standards

Republican Joseph McKenna (R-Webster) offered an amendment to increase the evidentiary standard for approving an ERPO from “the preponderance of evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.”

The amendment failed 40-110 (RC#356). Democrats DiZoglio, Dwyer, Garry, Markey, Velis, and Zlotnik joined Republicans in voting for it.

McKenna also offered an amendment to raise the standard by which the court determines a risk to “imminent and significant.”

It failed 36 to 117 (RC#357), with Dwyer and Garry again voting with Republicans.

McKenna offered yet another amendment to require the notification of the agency, board, or supervisory authority governing any and all professional or civil licenses, permits, or certifications an individual on whom an ERPO has been filed. The amendment marked another attempt by Republicans to act as though the issue at hand were not guns.

It failed 35 to 118 (RC#58), with Garry the sole Democrat voting with Republicans.

Want to read the amendments? You can here.

Next Steps

The bill now heads to the Senate. Find your senator here and give him/her a call today.

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