House Judiciary Committee considers bill pushing for gun violence protective orders

A bill is making its way through the Alaska House of Representatives, calling for gun violence protection and “common sense public safety legislation.”

House Bill 75, proposed by Rep. Geran Tarr in January of 2017, would allow families and law enforcement to take away firearms from those who may be at risk of hurting themselves or others.

According to Tarr’s sponsor statement, “Alaska needs this kind of common-sense measure that is temporary in nature and limited in scope to help people suffering from a mental health crisis.”

The statement also mentioned the shooting in Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, as well as the shooting at a Florida airport by Esteban Santiago, a veteran from Anchorage.

“This legislation doesn’t infringe on the Second Amendment,” the statement also read. “The individual can retrieve his/her firearms when the high-risk behavior is no longer a threat.”

Diana Rhoades, legislative director in Tarr’s office, said the bill has gained more traction since the Parkland shooting and Tarr wants to help those in need.

“[Tarr] has been looking for legislation that would help people in a critical time of need, a tool for families that would address these issues,” Rhoades said.

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Immediate family members would be able to petition for a protective order against someone who they believed to be a danger to themselves or others. If the court issued the order, the respondent would have to surrender firearms and ammunition to law enforcement or sell them to a firearms dealer.

The House Judiciary Committee met Wednesday to have the seventh hearing for the bill and spoke over the phone with Alaska State Troopers.

Representatives spent time discussing Alaska’s existing domestic violence protective orders and how they related to HB 75’s proposition.

Rep. Matt Claman, chair of the committee, asked Sgt. Matthew Hightower if there was a difference between HB 75’s gun violence protective orders and procedures carried out for domestic violence protective orders.

“Based on my understanding of the order, I don’t believe there will be any difference other than what we serve to them and what we’d be required by law to take from them,” Hightower said.

Officers usually assume that those for whom they are serving a protective order has a firearm in the house, Hightower said.

There are situations in which officers will seize weapons without a warrant, Capt. Dan Lowden said, such as having concern for a person’s well-being and needing to keep the firearm for safekeeping if there are no family members willing to do so.

Another situation could be that the firearm is out and plainly seen on the coffee table or gun rack in a truck. Based on the circumstances, sometimes the person will have their firearm returned on the scene.

“There are several ways that we end up with weapons in our possession without a warrant,” Lowden said.

Rep. Lora Reinbold brought up the U.S. Constitution, the Second Amendment and expressed concern about the seizure of firearms.

“I’m trying to figure out where, in your opinion, do you think it’s okay to confiscate those guns even if you’ve sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution?” Reinbold asked.

Lowden reiterated the different situations in which officers would take a firearm and for what reasons, but not before she asked again if he takes an oath to defend the Constitution.

“He does take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution,” Claman interjected.

The committee will continue holding hearings for HB 75 before referring it to the House Finance Committee. It would then go to the House floor for a vote and to the Senate.

Rhoades said that there have been several amendments drafted for the bill, including some that are at the request of the NRA.

“We’re hoping that we have the votes in the committee to make sure that those amendments that would weaken the bill don’t pass,” Rhoades said.