On Tuesday, I had a chance to catch up with Jim Wallace from Gun Owners Action League (GOAL). Jim is the Executive Director of GOAL. Our conversation centered around the deeply misguided Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) bill, also known as a “Red Flag” bill, wending its way through the Massachusetts Legislature.
If you’re not familiar with ERPOs, they are a way for the government to confiscate firearms from purportedly troubled individuals. In an ideal world, they function like this. A concerned friend or family member or a law enforcement officer petitions a court to seize an individual’s firearms on the basis that the person is a threat to themselves or others. Evidence to substantiate that claim is provided to a judge and that judge makes a decision on whether authorities need to intervene and confiscate.
Under most ERPOs there is a timely appeal process for the defendant, usually within 10 days. If the individual feels as though he has been wrongly accused he or she can ask for a hearing to make a case as to the state of his or her well being and present evidence that everything is copacetic. If the judge agrees, the firearms are returned. If not, the firearms remain in the possession of the state until the ERPO expires or indefinitely depending on the case.
The ostensible goal of an ERPO is to disarm those who need to be disarmed while respecting the rights, including Due Process, of the falsely accused. It’s a win-win for everyone. Except that it isn’t. There are considerable flaws to ERPOs, including one that Jim is fully cognizant of and one that the Massachusetts Legislature refuses to acknowledge. They are strictly a confiscation scheme. They provide no mental health treatment or supervision or intervention to those who truly need it. The sole focus is on taking guns. It would be like a bomb squad only concerning itself with silencing the ticking on a ticking time bomb as opposed to fully defusing it.
Consider this, as Jim explained. You’re a suicidal individual. You’re on the edge. Suddenly, authorities are knocking at your door. You’re confused. Your neighbors are wondering what’s going on, they’re watching from their windows. Your new girlfriend’s over, she had no idea about your depression. After the cops take your guns, she leaves without saying a word. Police bring you in for an evaluation. You don’t seem that bad, so they cut you loose. The question is how do you handle this embarrassment. Given your fragile state, who knows how you’ll respond. The reality is that just because they took your guns doesn’t mean that you still can’t end your life. Fact: Most suicides in Massachusetts don’t involve a firearm (93 percent of women and 78 percent of men do not use a gun), according to the state Department of Public Health. You have a car, you have knives in the kitchen and chemicals under the sink. The reality is that your house is still a hazard because the state, in its myopic quest to seize tools that go bang, forgot about the most important piece to the equation: you.
“You’re sending people home to die,” said Jim. That’s the reality of a Red Flag law that fixates on confiscation and says nothing about treatment. To its credit, GOAL offered a counterproposal to the ERPO bill that would shift the focus to the individual, one that offered a suicide prevention hotline, wellness check-ups, medical care and more. But imagine this. It was roundly rejected by lawmakers
“I think it’s really important not to conflate mental health with what we’re trying to do,” said Rep. Marjorie Decker, the sponsor of the bill, in a State House News Service article. She said that the ERPO was “one tool” to limit “suicide and mass casualty events.”
That statement alone makes one question the sanity of the politicians in Massachusetts. How can a bill designed to stop people deemed by the state to be “extreme risks” due to mental illness not be primarily concerned with treating mental illness? Makes zero sense. It would be like creating a law to stop addicts that mentions nothing about treating addiction. You’re an alcoholic. We’re just going to confiscate your beer. That’ll fix ya!
The truth is, as mentioned, taking guns away from suicidal or homicidal individuals does not make them any less dangerous to themselves and others. Cars, knives, baseball bats, and even stolen guns from neighbors or family members can all be used by that troubled individual to take lives.
GOAL came to the table with solutions that would work toward fixing broken people. But Bay State politicians don’t want any part of it. They’re happy with gun confiscation as the end all be all for treating troubled people.
What’s also fascinating, maybe ironic even, and Jim mentioned this, is that authorities in Massachusetts have a half dozen or so ways to confiscate guns already. Local cops can take a concealed carrier’s guns at the drop of a hat under the License to Carry “suitability clause.” Firearm Identification cards can also be revoked by authorities for any number of reasons. Plus, longstanding laws allow the state to remove guns from people who have been committed involuntarily for mental health or substance abuse. Point being, Red Flag confiscation is completely redundant.
Anyways, the House has passed Decker’s shortsighted bill. It’s expected to head to the Senate in the coming weeks before the end of the session in July. And if you think this contagion is only endemic to Mass., you’d be wrong. Congressional lawmakers, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), have introduced the bipartisan Red Flag Law, S. 2521. Maybe the final draft of the federal version will be more comprehensive. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.
I want to thank Jim for taking the time to talk to me. If you’re a Bay Stater, make sure to support GOAL. They’re on the frontlines fighting the good fight.