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By Colin A. Young

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 21, 2018.....They never thought it would happen at their school or in their community, but last month it did. Now they want lawmakers in their new home of Massachusetts to act before tragedy strikes a Bay State school.

Erin Heim of Somerville, a 2008 graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, joined ERPO bill sponsors Rep. Marjorie Decker (left) and Rep. David Linsky (right) at a briefing Wednesday. [Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS]

Putting local faces on a national movement, six alumni of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were killed by a gunman on Feb. 14, pushed state lawmakers to bring a controversial proposal that has gained attention in recent weeks to a vote quickly.

"We have grown complacent with children feeling at risk in schools and we have grown complacent feeling at risk anytime we're in public. Gun violence is not just a school issue, it is an every one, everywhere issue," Justin Manjourides, a member of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas class of 2000 who now lives in Boston's South End, said. "We have not solved this problem and we need to work towards solutions. When people are showing clear signs they are a risk to themselves or others, limiting their access to guns is a no-brainer."

The MSD alumni advocated Wednesday for legislation (H 3610) filed by Cambridge Democrat Rep. Marjorie Decker that would allow courts to issue extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs), barring people from access to guns for one year if they are deemed dangerous by a judge.

Erin Heim, a member of the MSD class of 2008 who lives in Somerville, said that had Florida instituted an ERPO law, the 17 deaths at her alma mater might have been prevented.

"It was well known that the shooter, the murderer, was unstable. People had reported him left and right and yet he easily had access to a gun. That's wrong," she said. She added, "All of us thought it couldn't happen to us in Parkland, Florida. Every single person this happens to thinks it won't happen to them. So everyone should know that it can and we need to act to prevent that."

Rep. David Linsky, who filed an ERPO bill (H 3081) similar to Decker's, said Massachusetts cannot expect to be free of mass shootings forever and cannot "rest on its laurels" when it comes to gun reform.

"Parkland could have been Plymouth, Columbine could have been Cohasset, or Newtown could have Needham, or Natick or Newton," Linsky, a Natick Democrat, said. "Things can happen here and quite frankly, we've been lucky. We need an extreme risk protective order bill, we need H 3610, it's time to bring this bill to the floor."

The idea of allowing courts to order the confiscation of firearms if a person is determined to be a threat to themselves or others has garnered considerable attention on Beacon Hill since the Marjory Douglas High School shooting, but Decker's bill remains under consideration by the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, which has until April 15 to issue a report on the bill.

Local alumni of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a shooter killed 17 people last month, joined legislative sponsors Wednesday to call for passage of an extreme risk protection order bill. [Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS]

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who takes pride in the state's stringent gun laws and recent reforms, has not committed to bringing the bill to the floor for a vote and said Sunday he wants to give the committee time to review the proposal.

"I would think it's only fair to the members of the committee that they have the opportunity to hear it and to make their recommendation before I would state that," DeLeo said. He said, "I'm not afraid to take up things if they're going to bring further protection to all the residents of the Commonwealth."

Members of the Gun Owners Action League and others have argued that the ERPO bill is unnecessary because police chiefs already have authority to revoke or suspend someone's firearms license. Gov. Charlie Baker said on the radio earlier this month that local chiefs have exercised that authority recently.

"They have the authority and they do on occasion -- in fact there were a couple of instances in the past couple of weeks where they did this -- have the ability to revoke someone's license to carry and to take away their weapon," Baker said. "Right now. And by the way, we are one of the only states for which that's true, and I wish that was true in more states."

But Linsky and Decker said that an ERPO bill is necessary to "fill in the legal loopholes that currently exist in the law."

"If this law is enacted it will allow and it will empower particularly family members and law enforcement to go directly to a judge and seek a risk protection order, which simply means that if a judge determines someone in your home is unsafe to themselves or unsafe to others, the judge can then remove that gun, that ammunition and that license for one year," Decker said.

Police chiefs can issue a firearms identification card (FID) for anyone who lives, works or owns a business in their community, Linskey said, but can only revoke a license that his or her community issued. He also said that a gun owner has the right to hold onto their weapons and ammunition while they appeal a police chief's decision to revoke their FID.

And police chiefs, Linsky said, can only ask that people turn over their firearms but do not have the right to enter and search someone's home and seize a gun without a warrant from a judge.

"Why we need an ERPO bill, quite frankly, is so the police and law enforcement and the courts can move quickly because they know something is about to happen," he said.

Decker said, "It's an additional tool. It also means that we don't have to hope that each police chief in any town will...we don't have to worry about consistency. Somebody who lives in one town versus another town -- how those police chiefs actually, whether they follow up on a well check-up, what the outcome of that (is) varies."

The Public Safety Committee has until April 15 to decide whether to advance Decker's ERPO bill, but she said Wednesday that she is "feeling very confident that this will be moving forward to a vote."


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