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New gun law allows seizure of weapon from dangerous person

Massachusetts has some of the nation's strictest gun laws that place significant limits on the rights of individuals to own and carry firearms. The state recently passed a law banning the use of "bump stocks," attachments that can convert a semi-automatic weapon into a completely automatic weapon. Now, Gov. Charlie Baker has signed the "extreme risk protection" bill, also known as a red flag law.

Massachusetts becomes the eleventh state to pass such a law. Under the new law, which takes effect in 45 days, a family member or household member who believes that a person poses a threat to themselves or another person can file a petition with the district court asking the court to immediately suspend that person's gun license and temporarily confiscate the all weapons owned by that person. The judge must hold a hearing on the petition within 10 days, giving both the petitioner and the person who is the object of the petition an opportunity to present evidence supporting their respective cases. The petitioner can offer evidence showing why the protective order should be extended for up to a year. The court's ruling on the petition can be appealed by either party. The law contains severe penalties for violating an extreme risk protective order and for petitioners who have filed the petition merely as an act of harassment or who make false statements in support of the petition.

As might be expected, guns rights group opposed the legislation, saying that it merely took guns from mentally ill persons but does nothing to address the illness. The president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association praised the law and described it as "another tool in the tool box."

Time must pass before police and judges become familiar with the law and how it works in actual practice. Nevertheless, anyone who is charged with making a harassing petition or with violating the law faces serious criminal charges. Anyone facing such charges may benefit from consulting with an experienced criminal attorney for advice on accepting a favorable plea agreement or interposing an active defense.

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