Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo announced this week the House would take up the so-called “red flag” gun safety bill. The move ended months of speculation and growing pressure from outside the building. The proposed legislation would “allow a judge to temporarily seize guns from someone who might pose a danger to themselves and others.”
Eight states already have similar laws on the books, and some 20 more are considering them. Since the school shooting in Parkland, Florida in February, Florida itself and Maryland — like Massachusetts, a blue state with a popular Republican governor — have passed their own.
As has often been true on other issues in recent years, Massachusetts voters are way ahead of the state legislature. Our March WBUR poll found 89 percent of voters statewide approve of the proposed change. Massachusetts voters also approve of a variety of other tougher gun laws not currently being debated. Majorities also support raising the age to purchase a firearm to 21, banning high capacity magazines, and even banning semi-automatic rifles.
Even so, a red flag law is a significant step, and a break from an all too familiar pattern. After many mass shootings, there is an initial outburst of shock and outrage, but it subsides but before any action is taken. The conversation around guns since Parkland has been a bit more durable, although even this more sustained bump is showing signs of dropping off.
Much of the credit must go to students in the state. The Parkland survivors have drawn attention nationally, but students across Massachusetts have been marching, too. DeLeo gave credit where due, pointing to student protesters as a key force behind the push for the bill and holding the announcement at a school. Students have been walking out of class for months, partly in protest and partly to lobby for the bill. As the Globe reported:
“Over 17 minutes Wednesday morning, students from Somerville High School and other area schools orchestrated an old-fashioned phonebank blitz, flooding DeLeo’s office — and that of two other legislative leaders — with calls pushing what supporters call a “red flag” gun-control bill.”
None of the other proposals voters favor appear to be under serious consideration. With post-Parkland intensity beginning to fade, a red flag law may be the only change that passes for now. Sadly, given the rate of mass shootings, there is almost certain to be a call for more changes soon.