Massachusetts' Red Flag Gun Law: Saving lives or threatening civil rights?

Dozens of guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition have been taken from people in Massachusetts considered a danger to themselves or others. The emergency seizures are the result of a new "red flag" law that went into effect in July 2018.

It allows law enforcement, family members or people with close ties to a gun owner to petition a judge for an extreme risk protection order or ERPO.

The law was passed after the Valentine's Day, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Police say Nikolas Cruz used a legally owned assault-style rifle to kill 17 students and staff members.  Police were familiar with Cruz and he had a documented history of mental illness.

Eight other states passed similar legislation after the Parkland Shooting.

Boston 25 News found eight ERPOs on file at courthouses in Hingham, Quincy, Holyoke, Wareham, Brockton, and Malden.

One involved a Malden man who agreed to speak with us if we withheld his identity. According to court documents, Malden Police were concerned the man could be suicidal after he told a friend he "wanted to end his life."

Officers sent him to the hospital for a mental health evaluation and successfully petitioned a judge to remove his legally owned Smith and Wesson 9mm handgun.  Police removed the weapon from a locked safe in his home.

"I'm not a criminal. I had a bad day," he said outside his home. "I lost my job because of it.  I work for an armored truck company and without my firearm, I can't work.  If you want to go to that extreme maybe take the time to follow up maybe with a doctor come back here, follow up with me."

He said he still trains with weapons once a month as a member of the Army National Guard.

ERPOs have also been sought by victims of domestic violence. In October, Randolph police confiscated handguns and 10 semi-automatic rifles from a 30-year-old Marine Corps veteran said to have "expert training in firearms."  The ERPO was filed by a woman who says the man had assaulted her. In her own word,s she described a "pattern of self-harm, violence towards others and objects."

>> Red flag bill: Mass. Governor Charlie Baker signs "extreme risk" gun bill

One month later police seized five guns and 2,400 rounds from a Mansfield home. According to paperwork associated with the case, Brockton police suspected the homeowner could have "psychological issues" after he walked into the Brockton Hospital for treatment with a handgun on his hip.

Jim Wallace is the executive director of the Massachusetts Gun Owners' group a Northborough based gun rights advocacy group affiliated with the NRA.  He believes the law is flawed because it doesn't provide any mental health care or wellbeing checks for people after their weapons are confiscated.

"If you just take somebody into court who you think may be suicidal, take their legal gun away, and send them home what have we really done, nothing.  As a matter of fact, we may exacerbate the situation," Wallace said.

We also shared our findings with Representative Marjorie Decker (D) Cambridge.

"I'm sorry about anyone losing their job but they didn't lose their job because of this law," Decker said during an interview at her home.

Decker told Boston 25 News she was criticized, harassed and even threatened by gun rights advocates for sponsoring the state’s red flag law but she continues to stand behind it.

"People aren't running to the courts. It's being used exactly as it should for people who really believe that someone is going to cause harm to themselves or others," Decker explained.

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