Massachusetts lawmakers try to expand gun seizure laws

AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

The Bay State is the home of Salem. Interestingly, they had some righteous parties there, where if one did not fall into line they could find themselves falling at the end of a rope due to their witchcraft. Massachusetts has a great history of respecting the civil liberties of accused parties, clearly, and they’re looking to enhance the laws they have on the books in the way of more firearm seizures.

From a Gun Owners Action League (GOAL) alert, we can learn about a bill that was introduced, has made its way through the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, and made its way to the House Committee on Ways and Means. The bill, H.1529, An Act relative to firearm safety and harassment prevention orders increases the bite to “harassment prevention orders”.

In Massachusetts there are a couple of different “restraining orders” that can be enacted. One is a 209A Abuse Prevention Order, which applies narrowly to those whom are family or household members. The other, a 258E Harassment Prevention Order, which applies to the general public. Of the two orders, current law only allows for firearm seizure in the event of the former, not the latter of the two types. H. 1529 adds language to include the seizure of firearms to the statute governing the Harassment Prevention Orders.

While this is not a “red flag” law, which Massachusetts had one of those signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker in 2018, Harassment Prevention Orders, like most so-called restraining orders can and do get executed ex parte. Meaning lack of due process for gun owners that might get entangled into a situation that’s revolving around false allegations.

The Gun Owners Action League alert outlines the need for Massachusetts gun owners to contact the chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means.

As we reported in the Friday News last week, H.1529, An Act relative to firearm safety and harassment prevention orders, was reported favorably by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. This means the bill is headed to the House Committee on Ways and Means where it must also receive a favorable report in order to be sent to the legislature for a vote. Please take a look at the attached letter and please mail a copy to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Aaron Michlewitz and ask him to advise the Committee not to give the bill a favorable report.

  1. Do not mail the instructions page. 
  2. Please print this letter out, put your contact information on it, date it, sign it and send it via regular mail. This is the most effective means.
  3. We understand emails are easier, but mass emails are not effective as they are often not read by the legislators or their staff. They are often simply counted and your contact information is put on a list for a form email response.
  4. If you wish to send the letter to other members of the committee, you can find the contact information for Ways and Means Committee members at: https://malegislature.gov/Committees/Detail/J39

Click Here for the PDF: Harassment Letter WMC.pdf

One of the things that really stuck out to me when I read the bill text says it all when it comes to due process and being treated like a criminal.

Section 4C. Upon an order for suspension or surrender issued pursuant to sections 4A or 4B, the court shall transmit a report containing the defendant’s name and identifying information and a statement describing the defendant’s alleged conduct and relationship to the plaintiff to the department of criminal justice information services.

We need to focus on the fact that these orders are being executed on allegations. That means if neighbors are having a beef, whatever alleged conduct gets communicated can be translated to a firearm seizure, with a gross possibility of these orders being weaponized.

GOAL’s letter outlines some of the issues they have with the bill. In part it reads:

This bill essentially serves as an expansion of the ill-conceived so-called “Red Flag Law” which
allows for the removal or suspension of a citizen’s constitutional rights and private property
without definitive due process of law. The debates leading up to the passage of the law, and
indeed the law itself, willfully ignored the human elements involved and those desperately in
need of mental health help.

This new law proposed by H.1529, is simply another avenue to persecute and prosecute
responsible gun owners. In 2018, Gun Owners’ Action League (GOAL) released a report that
proved beyond any doubt that the gun laws of the Commonwealth were an abject failure. Murder and violent crime continue to very high levels, while the gun laws of our state only target the Second Amendment Community.

According to GOAL the 2018 “red flag” law, which is again a bit different than but still akin to these kinds of measures, with less of a threshold to meet the standards of, was found to be hardly utilized/underutilized. Thus unneeded.

In 2018, Governor Charlie Baker signed the so-called “Red Flag” Law. The law allows family members or police departments to file a petition to receive, following a hearing, what is called an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) from a judge to confiscate someone’s legally owned firearms, if that person is determined to pose a danger to themselves or others. Since its passage four years ago, the law has only been used 44 times (10 in 2018; 19 in 2019; 9 in 2020; and 6 in 2021) and has resulted in only 30 items surrendered.

These low numbers, especially from 2021, show that this law is unnecessary and it remains to be seen how effective it can or will be in combatting gun violence. Beyond the fact that no type of appeals court has had the opportunity to decide if the ERPO procedure is due process enough to deny someone of their Constitutional Civil Rights, the law is also a bit redundant as police in Massachusetts already had the ability to temporarily revoke firearms licenses for safety reasons even before this new law existed.

Red flag laws still do nothing to address mental health concerns in the Commonwealth, which is the root of most of the violence problem in the US. Red flag laws allow for a temporary “solution” to a perceived issue but do nothing but further stigmatize and deny civil rights to those with mental health problems. Rather than inventing new ways to confiscate guns from lawful gun owners, the state should instead focus on helping those in need of mental health care.

Residents of Massachusetts need to be aware that this bill is winding its way through the legislative process and their involvement is needed. Reach out to your legislators, specifically the House Committee on Ways and Means (I’d say all of them just so they get the message).

As GOAL noted, regular snail mail letters will pack the most punch. I’m a belt and suspenders kind of guy, so make sure your voice is heard by mailing, emailing, and phoning in your views to the lawmakers! This is one of those situations where the more is the merrier.

Click HERE for the PDF of GOAL’s recommended letter: Harassment Letter WMC.pdf

Interested parties that live in other states are also invited to let their views be known. You certainly don’t want these bad policies coming to your state.

Some helpful links to aid in contacting the legislators:

Joint Committee on Ways and Means (malegislature.gov)
Find My Legislator (malegislature.gov)
Senate Members (malegislature.gov)
House Members (malegislature.gov)

If you’d like to support or learn more about GOAL and the good work they do, check them out at www.goal.org