When Should the Government Be Able To Take Your Guns Away?

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/07/18/when-should-the-government-be-able-to-take-your-guns-away/

BOSTON — An array of gun bills drew a crowd of citizen activists to the State House on Tuesday, with a pair of bills aimed at ending the citizen ban on firearm suppressors and temporarily taking guns out of the possession of at-risk persons drawing the most passionate testimony.

The day started with state Representative David Linsky (D-Natick) making remarks at the building’s Nurses Hall to kick off what was described as a gun violence protection lobby day. Linsky’s legislation, an “act establishing extreme risk protective orders,” would allow a family member, living partner, police officer, district attorney, or health professional to petition judges to temporarily take away legally-owned guns and ammo from another individual.

“A petitioner requesting an extreme risk protective order shall include in the petition detailed allegations based on personal knowledge that the respondent poses a significant danger of causing physical harm to themselves, the petitioner, or others by having in his or her custody or control, owning, purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm or ammunition,” the proposal states.

“Unfortunately in Massachusetts law right now there’s virtually nothing that law enforcement or the courts or mental health professionals can do,” Linsky told activists ahead of Tuesday’s hearing. “We need a legal way to go in and on a temporary basis, making sure the person’s constitutional rights, and due process rights, are taken care of, and separate them from that gun until the crisis is over and until the person involved can get that mental health treatment they so desperately need.”

While dozens of voices spoke out in favor of Linsky’s legislation before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, just two individuals — Gun Owners’ Action League Executive Director Jim Wallace and John Hohenwarter of the National Rifle Association — questioned the merits of Linksy’s bill.

Hohenwarter said lawmakers should “keep in mind” that the bill would “create two new protective orders, based on third-party allegations, with very little evidence.”

“Typically when you start removing constitutional rights, they’re done through felony convictions with evidence, not by third-party allegations with very little evidence,” Hohenwarter added. “I’d ask you to take a really close look at this legislation, it’s flawed and creates many constitutional implications.”

Hohenwarter’s remarks prompted several members of the audience, a crowd which filled the hearing room to standing-room capacity, to make hissing noises in an apparent effort to show their disgust, an action that the committee chairman, state Senator William Brownsberger (D-Belmont), either did not hear or chose not to confront.

State Representative Michael Day (D-Stoneham) pointed out, however, that Linsky’s legislation is “modeled after” the restraining order process and questioned whether Hohenwarter believed that matter to be unconstitutional.

“Massachusetts already has a number of different mechanisms to remove firearms from individuals in appropriate cases, most through what we would say is a due-process-type system,” Hohenwarter said. “This bill creates an incredibly different third-party allegation — it requires immediate surrender.

“Massachusetts law is already quite sufficient in removing firearms from individuals in appropriate cases.”

Hohenwarter’s testimony stood at odds with testimony delivered by individuals whose families have suffered loss of life at the hands of persons deemed mentally ill who had access to guns, including Christian Heyne of the Washington D.C.-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Heyne recalled when on Memorial Day in 2005, while returning a boat from a holiday vacation, another man “who people knew was a danger to himself and others” shot and killed his mother and wounded his father.

“We know that this law works — Connecticut has been studied — and there are examples we’ve seen where people who have been subject to risk protection orders are 40 times more likely to attempt suicide,” he said.

Kelly Roskam, general counsel for the coalition, noted that Connecticut “has had a similar procedure since 1999” while Indiana enacted a “similar procedure in 2005,” and pointed out that “both of those policies have been challenged — neither of which have been found to violate Second Amendment rights.”

“This policy is narrowly tailored to only get to those people that are most at-risk as a danger to themselves or others,” she said.

Meanwhile, Wallace pointed out that Hollywood’s depiction of firearm suppressors — which he noted are more commonly inaccurately referred to as “silencers” — “is a myth.”

Knox Williams of the Georgia-based American Suppressor Association testified alongside Wallace and Hohenwarter.

“The difference between a suppressor and a silencer is purely semantics, they refer to the same thing,” Williams said. “There is no such thing that can silence the noise of a gunshot — the quietest it can get is about 110 decibels, about as loud as a jackhammer.”

“From our perspective, suppressors are a tool that will allow law-abiding citizens to help protect their hearing while engaging in shooting sports and especially hunting. Seventy-eight percent of hunters never wear hearing protection in the field. Should they? Yes. Fact is they don’t.”

Linsky, however, was highly critical regarding the noise claim.

“These are inherently dangerous devices criminals use to suppress the sound of gunshots,” he said. “They are not designed to protect hearing — do not fall for that — they’re designed to make it difficult for people nearby to identify the sound of gunshots and locate an active shooter.

“The real reason [is] the gun lobby wants to profit off of sales — these bills aren’t about safety, these bills are about money, plain and simple.”

The suppressor bill, introduced by state Representative Josh Cutler (D-Duxbury), would enact stiff penalties for those who use them in the process of committing a crime, with those convicted facing up to an additional 10 years behind bars.

Others who testified against Cutler’s legislation included Chelsea Police Chief Bryan Kyes and Arlington Police Chief Fred Ryan.

Kyes said suppressors can hinder the effectiveness of ShotSpotter gunfire location technology, which he noted is used by at least 12 police departments in Massachusetts. Hohenwarter, however, had previously pointed to a Washington Post report this past March in which a ShotSpotter executive disputed claims that the technology can be affected by suppressors.

Both chiefs also testified in favor of Linsky’s extreme risk protective order legislation.