In July 2018, Massachusetts’ Governor Baker signed a law that allows courts to order firearms as well as other weapons to be taken away from a person who poses a risk of causing bodily injury to him or herself or any other person. This new law has been referred to as the “red flag” bill and is one of numerous laws that have been passed following the recent rash of school shootings.
The Reasoning Behind the Red Flag Bill
Law enforcement in Massachusetts already has the discretion to decide whether to suspend or revoke a person’s firearm license if it believes that the individual is likely to engage in violence. These powers held by law enforcement were limited, however, in that they were not designed to revoke ownership of a firearm or any other type of weapon quickly.
This new law was created to make it easier to remove firearms when there is an indication that a person is in crisis or has the potential to engage in violence.
The Process Created by the Red Flag Bill
Under this new law, a petition for an “extreme risk protection order” is filed by a family or household member or by law enforcement in the district court or Boston Municipal Court that covers the municipality in which the firearm owner lives. This petition must state why the person filing it believes that the individual in question is likely to harm someone. Courts are granted broad discretion under this new law to determine whether a person presents a risk of harm at any time.
If the court determines that such a risk exists, it can order the respondent to hand in the firearm or weapon for a period of time of up to one year. While courts are able to respond in emergencies, many times a hearing will be scheduled within 10 days to contest the petition. If the court grants an order, it must give both the petitioner and the respondent details about crisis intervention, mental health, and substance abuse treatment.
The Standard Applied in Red Flag Cases
While these orders refer to “extreme risk,” the standard that courts must apply is whether a risk exists of causing bodily harm, which means that responsible gun owners in some situations can end up having their firearms taken away. For this reason, firearm owners in Massachusetts are likely to challenge this law due to the amount of discretion that it gives the government.
The Helpful Element of the New Law
Under the new Red Flag law, a person is able to seek orders based on concerns for another person and the desire to obtain help for this individual. The new law also gives individuals who are engaged in dangerous situations the ability to work toward defusing conditions that could eventually lead to violence.
Contact a Skilled Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you or a loved one has been subject to the Red Flag law or any other body of criminal code in Massachusetts, you should not hesitate to contact attorney Edward Molari today for assistance.