House committee stops all other business to hear gun bill

Rep. Geran Tarr presents House Bill 75 to the House Judiciary Committee.

JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) The Alaska Legislature’s response to the Florida high school shootings — a gun bill focusing on mental health — pushed aside all other business of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday for a hearing with public testimony.

Dozens of people said they supported House Bill 75, originally proposed more than a year ago by Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, but largely forgotten until 17 people were shot dead in school last week.

The bill would allow for emergency gun hearings similar to those for domestic violence. If a judge heard credible evidence from family members or police that a person was threatening self harm or harm to others, the judge could order the person’s firearms confiscated for up to six months.

Only two witnesses voiced opposition to the bill, but the questions of a pair of Republican legislators indicated it could face broader attacks later, particularly over whether guns should be singled out as weapons when cars or knives could also be dangerous, or whether metal detectors in schools could resolve the problem without seizing firearms.

One of the opponents called in from Anchorage — David Nees, a former middle school teacher. Nees said the state already had laws to deal with people suffering mental health problems.

Another witness who called in by phone, Bruce Edwards, attacked the other witnesses as “a bunch of women calling from prepared statements” and described the bill as part of a conspiracy to seize people’s guns.

Edwards, who said he was from Butte, cited other false theories in his testimony, for instance saying the garbage truck struck by an Amtrak train carrying Republican congressmen to a retreat in West Virginia had been deliberately parked on the rails.

But most of the testimony was in favor of the bill. About a dozen high school students from Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau voiced support.

“As an American, I should not feel scared to come to school, but I am scared, I’m scared that someone will come to my school and kill me or my two other sisters or friends with weapons they should not possess,” said Stella Tallmon, a high school sophomore from Juneau.

“House Bill 75 is an amazing bill and step in the right direction,” said Talya Johnson, another Juneau high school student. “I know I’m sick and tired of being scared to go to school because of what might happen.”

Adults, including several who told of being avid hunters or gun enthusiasts, also supported the measure as a way to reduce gun violence. Elizabeth Thompson, calling from Petersburg, said the bill “gives us something we can do” when a person threatens harm.

Another, Suzanne Cohen from Juneau, said it was proper for a bill to emphasize guns and not other weapons.

“People who are homicidal or suicidal shouldn’t have access to guns,” Cohen said. Even if the bill reduced deaths by half or by a fourth, “that would be a tremendous accomplishment,” she said.

A lobbyist with the National Rifle Association, Brian Judy, attended the session but declined to answer questions afterward, saying he couldn’t speak for the organization. Tarr said she had earlier met with Judy and he told her the gun organization wouldn’t oppose her bill.

Matt Claman, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he would allow more testimony on the bill at a later date, but didn’t set a time.

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