The Massachusetts Legislature voted Tuesday to establish a process for family, household members or licensing authorities (petitioners) to petition the court for an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) for individuals who “pose a risk of causing bodily injury to self or others” by owning, possessing or having a firearm. An ERPO, if issued by the court, is effective for up to one year and results in the immediate suspension and surrender of all firearms and ammunition.
Licensing authorities are required to provide a list of services “relating to crisis intervention, mental health, substance abuse and counseling” upon receipt of an ERPO.
“With the passage of this legislation, Massachusetts once again leads the nation with the strongest and most effective gun laws in the country,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) said. “This bill will prevent senseless tragedies and help keep Massachusetts’ children safe. I am sincerely grateful to Representative Decker, who tirelessly championed this bill, and would like to recognize Chairman Naughton, Representative Viera and the conferees for their work, as well as the students who raised their voices on this life-saving measure.”
“This legislation will give loved ones vitally needed tools to help their family members in difficult, emotional situations,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler. “We know that this bill will encourage mental health interventions, save lives, and reduce the risk of suicide and murder. And thank you to the thousands of students who spoke up on this issue—your advocacy made today possible.”
“I would like to thank Speaker DeLeo for his incredible leadership on this bill and for his commitment to firearm safety. Thanks to his leadership, as well as a the tireless advocacy from survivors, parents, and students, we have continued to be a leader in the nation in preventing gun violence and enhancing the quality of life in the Commonwealth,” said Representative Harold P. Naughton, Jr. (D-Clinton), Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Safety & Homeland Security. “This legislation provides a tool for families to protect loved ones from harming themselves or others by preventing them from accessing a firearm in a crisis. I believe we have also managed to strike a critical balance between public safety and due process. I am incredibly proud to have been able to play a small part in crafting a policy that I firmly believe will save lives.”
“I was so pleased to be the Senate Chair of the Conference Committee on this ‘Red Flag’ bill,” said Senator Creem. “Passage of this bill will save lives and it is a credit to all those who have advocated for its passage – especially our young people – that we were able adopt this important public safety policy.
“I sleep well at night knowing this bill continues to ensure that Massachusetts is doing everything it can to lead the nation with common sense gun legislation that we know will save lives,” said Marjorie C. Decker (D-Cambridge), sponsor of the bill. “I could not be more proud or grateful for Speaker DeLeo’s leadership and courage. We can continue to look our constituents in the eyes and into the faces of parents across Massachusetts who know that their legislature is working to keep them safe.”
“We must do all that we can to keep our communities safe, and that includes keeping guns out of the hands of those who pose a risk of endangering themselves or others,” said Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “I’m proud to join with my colleagues in the Legislature to stand up for public safety in the Commonwealth.”
While licensing authorities in Massachusetts can currently suspend or revoke a license to carry (LTC) or firearm ID (FID) card on the basis of suitability, the ERPO court process provides petitioners – particularly family and household members who are far more familiar with an at-risk individual’s behavior – an additional tool to keep the licensee and others safe. It also provides an independent avenue for petitioners who are reluctant to go to law enforcement by allowing them to directly approach the court, doing so “under the pains and penalties of perjury”.
The legislation also allows the court to issue an emergency ERPO prior to a hearing in certain situations and provides for a justice of the court to grant an ERPO on nights and weekends if it finds “reasonable cause to conclude that the respondent poses a risk of causing bodily injury to self or others”.
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.
Any person who files for an order falsely is subject to a $5,000 fine or 2 ½ years in a house of correction.
Finally, in the wake of the recent Supreme Judicial Court ruling in Commonwealth v. Ramirez, the bill repeals the ban on stun guns and puts a licensing procedure in place.
The bill now goes to the Governor for his consideration.