Gun bill will get airing in Juneau

JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) — The recent call for new gun control measures has led to the revival of bill from last year that would allow judges to order weapons to be confiscated from a person suffering from a mental illness.

The measure, originally introduced by Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, in January 2017, will have its first hearing Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee. The chairman of the committee, Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, said Tarr had asked for the hearing.

In an interview, Tarr said she decided to revive her bill after 17 people were killed at a Florida high school last week. The accused shooter was said by many accounts to have suffered from mental illness.

Tarr said her measure, House Bill 75, goes straight to that issue. The bill would create a new kind of order — a “gun risk protective order” — similar to a domestic violence protective order. It would allow a police officer or immediate family member — spouse, child, step child, parent or step parent — to ask a judge to for a hearing into the mental state of a person possessing firearms or ammunition.

“If the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the respondent is a danger to self or others,” the bill says, a judge can order the seizure of the person’s firearms and ammunition by local police or sold to a licensed firearms dealer. The protective order is good for six months or less.

The law also provides for a 72-hour emergency order without a full hearing.

Tarr said the Florida shootings “really solidified why it’s an important policy to consider.” She also said she wanted high school students in Alaska who walked out of school in support of the Florida students to know that the Legislature was listening to them.

Because people get over mental illness, they should be allowed to get their weapons returned, Tarr said. The names of those whose guns were removed would not be sent to national databases that are used to block firearm purchases around the country, she said.

“I think this is something to be used as a crisis intervention, recognizing that family members are most likely to see someone they love deteriorate and see their mental health status deteriorating. We’ll never have enough police to be in every situation at every time, but we can empower family members to speak up,” she said.

Tarr said she planned to meet with a representative of the NRA Wednesday before the 1 p.m. Judiciary Committee meeting and would learn whether it would oppose the bill.

Another House member, Rep. David Eastman, a Republican from Wasilla, filed a new bill last week, House Bill 370, that would authorize school district employees to carry a gun in school, but not require teachers to be armed.

With guns in the news, a Democratic House member from Fairbanks, Adam Wool, said at a news conference Tuesday that he thought it is time to repeal the “Dickey amendment,” congressional legislation in 1996 that barred the Centers for Disease Control from studying firearms safety.

“There used to be research money for the CDC — Centers for Disease Control — that was able to be used for researching gun violence and there was a bill in the U.S. senate that rescinded that funding, and some people are looking at maybe we should put that back in,” Wool said.

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