BOSTON — Police have seized weapons belonging to at least 20 people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others under the state's "red flag" law, according to newly released data.
The law, passed in the wake of school shootings and signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in July 2018, allows police, friends or relatives of a legal gun owner to seek a so-called "extreme risk protection order" if they believe that person poses a risk to themselves or others. The order gives police authority to temporarily confiscate that person's firearms and ammunition.
Data released by the state's Trial Court shows the law has been used to confiscate firearms belonging to at least 20 people since the law went into effect in August 2018. Twelve of those cases were last year.
At least 16 of those cases were emergency orders, meaning that the firearms were confiscated by police prior to them appearing before a judge.
To date, there have been 29 extreme risk petitions filed under the law.
Most involved white men but other details — such as names, addresses, the type and amount of weapons seized, and the circumstances — were not disclosed.
Supporters of the red-flag law say the law is working as intended.
"This law is essential for families concerned about the safety of a loved one, as it temporarily removes guns while families work to put some services into place," said Ruth Zakarin, the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.
She said the coalition is planning a public outreach initiative to let more people know about the law and how they can use it.
Gun rights advocates say the law lacks due process and threatens Second Amendment rights.
They point out that many requests for extreme risk orders are dubbed "emergencies," meaning police likely confiscated the weapons before the owner appeared before a judge.
"They're taking peoples' firearms away before they get a chance to have their day in court," said Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners’ Action League, the Massachusetts affiliate of the National Rifle Association. "So they're getting a knock on the door before they even know what's happening."
The "red flag" law was passed in the wake of the Valentine’s Day 2018 shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and while opponents warned it infringes on run rights, supporters said it's needed to protect lives.
The law allows a relative or someone else with close ties to a legal gun owner to ask a court for a 12-month order if the individual exhibits dangerous or unstable behavior.
Similar to the process for a domestic violence protection order, petitioners must show evidence that someone intends to harm themselves or others. Individuals subject to an order can appeal. The law also includes penalties of $2,500 to $5,000, and up to 2 1⁄2 years in jail, for someone who seeks an order based on false information or in order to harass a gun owner.
The Trial Court's data show that none of the requests filed to date have been determined to be fraudulent.
Regulations vary widely but at least a dozen states and Washington D.C. have red-flag laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Legislatures in at least 20 states including New Hampshire are considering similar laws, according to the Giffords Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence.
In New Hampshire, the Democratic controlled House of Representatives approved a similar measure two weeks ago despite the threat of a veto by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu. Republicans have criticized the legislation as a "dangerous disarming of the people of New Hampshire" that "encroaches upon their rights."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com.