Somerville Representatives Christine Barber, Mike Connolly and Denise Provost joined their House colleagues this week in voting to pass H.4517, An Act relative to firearms, known as the “red flag” bill to allow family members, health care providers and law enforcement to petition the court for an Extreme Risk Protective Order (ERPO) that would suspend an individual’s license to carry or firearm identification card if they are deemed at risk of harming themselves or others.
H.4517 serves as an immediate tool for families and law enforcement to prevent potential tragedy, and adds to the Commonwealth’s longstanding leadership on common sense gun control. Once an individual files a petition for an ERPO, the court must hold an evidentiary hearing within ten days, at which time a judge would determine whether a preponderance of evidence suggests the respondent poses a risk of causing harm to himself or others by virtue of possessing a firearm.
“In Massachusetts, police chiefs have the power to issue gun licenses, but also to revoke them. Such revocations are typically permanent. This bill, which is modeled on our existing law for restraining orders, is more flexible, because it entails temporary revocation. It also has additional due process protections,” said Representative Provost. “ERPOs must be upheld by a judge, after an evidentiary hearing, and are a means by which family members, who are fearful for their own safety or that of a depressed or volatile loved one, can ask that a dangerous situation be defused, by temporarily removing firearms.”
Passage of the legislation comes after tremendous advocacy by Massachusetts middle and high school students, particularly from Somerville, in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February that took the lives of fourteen students and three staff members. Shortly after the Parkland shooting, Somerville High School students formed Students Against Gun Violence, and were instrumental in organizing rallies and trips to the State House, as well as weekly walk-outs from school, advocating for the red flag bill.
“After seeing some of the worst mass shootings in our country’s history in the past several months, it has been incredibly heartening to see the advocacy by families, and especially students in Somerville, that brought attention to and garnered support for the ERPO bill,” said Representative Barber. “I was extremely proud to vote for this bill, and am proud to represent a district that has been so instrumental in bringing this legislation to the House floor.”
“As we mark this victory, we should recognize and acknowledge the activism of students at Somerville High School, along with students from across the country who stood up, organized marches and town halls, made phone calls, sent emails, and focused attention on the need to take this important step. For all of these young activists this is a true accomplishment,” said Representative Connolly.
H.4517 passed the House by a vote of 139-14, and now goes to the Senate for consideration.