The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association is urging lawmakers to pass a so-called "red flag" bill aimed at reducing gun violence, describing it as another tool for public safety and a way of closing "dangerous loopholes."
Dudley Police Chief Steven Wojnar, the association's president, visited the State House with gun violence prevention advocates Monday to drum up support for Rep. Marjorie Decker's extreme risk protection order (ERPO) bill, which has not surfaced in the House or Senate despite heavy lobbying for its passage.
The bill, pending before the House Ways and Means Committee, would allow a family member, roommate or law enforcement official to petition the court to bar someone from owning a firearm if their gun ownership presents a "significant danger of causing personal injury to self or others."
"It's just an extra tool in the toolbox, where you have family members and others that are close to individuals that know them best, and if they feel they're in some sort of crisis and they'd like to take some action to help safeguard both their safety and the safety of others, it's just another method for families to be able to go out and take some steps without having to have the law enforcement involved directly at that point, either," Wojnar told the News Service.
Current law, passed in 2014, grants Massachusetts police chiefs the power to revoke gun licenses. At the time of that law's passage, Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan said it "empowers police chiefs to use their judgment and common sense to identify people who – by virtue of mental illness, addiction, or a history of violence – have shown that they cannot be trusted with a lethal weapon."
Wojnar said the bill takes that idea and "kind of expands it out," allowing action to be taken wherever a person is now living or staying, and by those likely to know them best.
In a letter to lawmakers, Wojnar wrote that the discretion of police chiefs to revoke a gun license "is an important and valuable tool" but "limited in its reach" because chiefs can only exercise that discretion if the at-risk person was issued their license in that chief's jurisdiction.
"ERPO fixes that problem," he wrote.
Wojnar called the bill "a commonsense piece" and said it "gives some protection to lawful gun owners," who would have an opportunity to appeal the decision.
The Public Safety Committee endorsed Decker's bill on April 13 and referred it to the House Ways and Means Committee. Its supporters, including a group of clergy members who visited last week, have been a frequent presence on Beacon Hill in the wake of the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
The Gun Owners Action League has opposed the ERPO bill, and its executive director, Jim Wallace, said last week he's working on "different language" for the bill, which would focus on addressing mental health issues and involve setting up a "family and friends hotline" staffed by people trained in crisis management.
GOAL is concerned that the current bill would mean people going through a temporary crisis could be "dragged through a court, labeled a risk and then just sent home with no help," Wallace said on April 25. "That's what this bill does. You are going to destroy them."
House Speaker Robert DeLeo told reporters Monday afternoon that members of his staff had a "good conversation" with the chiefs association.
"I'd advise you to stay tuned on that," he said, later adding, "I think there is a strong interest now in terms of taking, shall I say, that extra step forward."