Baker Signs ‘Red Flag’ Gun Control Law Over Gun Owner Objections

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By Colin A. Young
State House News Service

With a raft of advocates and lawmakers huddled around the desk in his ceremonial office, Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday signed a law to allow family members to petition the courts to suspend gun ownership rights of someone they believe to be a danger.

The legislation gained attention and traction on Beacon Hill following the mass shooting that left 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, and goes into the books this session alongside the law then-Acting Governor Karyn Polito signed in November to ban devices used to make guns fire more rapidly.

The so-called red flag gun bill creates a process by which a family or household member can ask a judge to suspend someone’s gun license through an extreme risk protection order (known as an ERPO).

“I do believe we’re probably the only state in the country that’s both outlawed bump stocks and passed an ERPO legislation, which says that even in a state like ours — which has made tremendous progress on this issue — when there’s more to do we do it, and we do it in a way that gives everybody a chance to be heard,” Baker said before signing the law.

In a statement released after the bill signing, Baker said the law “creates a responsible way to help prevent gun deaths and suicides while protecting individuals’ second amendment rights.”

Under the new law, the court will hold a hearing within 10 days of receiving the petition, and if granted, will issue an ERPO requiring the respondent to immediately surrender their license to carry or firearm identification card, and all firearms, rifles, shotguns, machine guns, weapons, or ammunition to local police.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo said Tuesday that the ERPO law should be seen as a follow-up to a 2014 state gun law and adds to what is already “the strongest gun legislation that there is in the United States.”

“We not only want to be the safest place in the country, we want to be the safest place in the world,” DeLeo said. “And that’s what I think this will help us do.”

The bill creates a penalty — a fine between $2,500 and $5,000, up to two and a half years in jail, or both — for anyone who files for an ERPO with information they know is “materially false or with an intent to harass the respondent.”

The bill also allows courts to issue emergency ERPOs, which expire after 10 days, “without notice to the respondent and prior to the hearing required” in certain circumstances, a provision to which the Gun Owners Action League has objected.

On Twitter on Tuesday, the Gun Owners Action League called the governor “Anti Freedom Baker” and knocked him for signing “a bill which revokes due process only for licensed gun owners.” The group also took issue with the fact that the law regulates stun guns, which GOAL said are sold over the counter in most of the country without any problems.

Scott Lively, Baker’s opponent in the Republican gubernatorial primary, released a statement Tuesday morning in which he labeled Baker an “extreme risk to Second and Fourth Amendment rights” and said he would work to change the law if elected governor.

“Let’s cut through the phony rhetoric to the reality:  the gun control lobby wants to fully disarm Americans and ‘extreme risk’ is just a a cynical pretext for taking a giant step toward that goal,” Lively wrote to supporters in an email. “And our ‘Republican’ Governor is leading the charge.”