Gun bill remains locked in committee

Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, at a meeting in the Alaska State Capitol.

JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) — The only gun-control bill in the Legislature is still in its first committee, the same place it was in January, and at Day 86 of the session, there may not be enough time for it to pass.

The bill’s author, Rep. Geran Tarr, an Anchorage Democrat, said in a recent interview that she’s still hopeful the bill, House Bill 75, will become law.

“I’m going to be optimistic until the end,” Tarr said. “There’s still some time left and this is an important issue and a lot of people are demanding action. I’m getting emails from people everyday asking, ‘what’s going on?’”

But the National Rifle Association, which had been neutral on the bill, recently came out against it, perhaps dealing it a fatal blow.

“It appears that the NRA may be using stall tactics to delay action and I think we need some action,” Tarr said.

The bill was modeled after laws in Indiana and Connecticut and was an outgrowth of a shooting in which an individual with a gun sought mental help in Anchorage but didn’t get it. It would allow a police officer to seek a judge’s order confiscating firearms from a person threatening suicide or violence to others. A confiscation order could last up to six months.

The law wouldn’t require a judge to rule on the mental health of a person, but Tarr has suggested that it could be an effective tool to get an individual who stopped taking psychiatric medication to resume.

The original version of Tarr’s bill, filed last year, would have allowed close family members to request a gun violence protective order as well as the cops, but it was recently changed to remove family members. Tarr said that was fine with her, because family members could still go to the police with their concerns.

“We do have some information on suicide prevention, particularly in Connecticut where there was a long-term study done, they were able to show that for every 10 or 11 guns that were removed from a home, that one suicide was prevented,” Tarr said.

Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee where the gun bill has stalled, declined to comment. Tarr said she understood he was talking to the NRA.

A spokesman for the NRA at its Virginia headquarters, Lars Dalseide, said the organization supports some protective order laws — but not the proposal in Alaska.

“The NRA supports risk-protection orders that respect the due process of rights and ensures those who are found dangerous receive the mental-health treatment they so urgently need,” Dalseide said in a prepared statement. “House Bill 75, however, currently lacks such safeguards and therefore lacks our support.”

An opponent of the measure on the Judiciary Committee, Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, said in a recent interview that the bill suggests that a gun is “bad,” not the person who may use it.

“What we’re saying is, ‘We don’t want to put you in jail, we don’t want to put you in a hospital, we just want to take your guns,’ and I don’t think that’s going to solve any of the problems,” Eastman said.

Eastman suggested that the problem of gun violence in schools could be solved by arming teachers or other school officials.

“If there was a way to take weapons out of the hands of bad people, the state would’ve already done it,” Eastman said. “I don’t think there is such a way, and so at this point, the best that we can do as a first step is to make sure that our schools are protected, and that our children are protected, and that means people that are armed.”

Tarr said students who have walked out of school and marched for gun control should remain committed — even if her bill dies at the end of session.

“They should be proud that they stood up and have shown what kind of leaders they can be — they should continue their call for action,” Tarr said. “When they marched here on the Capitol steps, they chanted, ‘What do we want? We want to Live.’ That’s the mindset of our students. They are afraid at school and they want to live.”

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