Bill would let Alaska judges temporarily take guns from likely threats

Stella Tallmon, a sophomore at Juneau-Douglas High School, testifies before the Alaska House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, is on the left. Tarr sponsored a bill allowing judges to issue protective orders removing guns from people judged likely to be a threat to themselves or others. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)

A proposed House bill would allow Alaska judges to issue protective orders removing guns from people who they find to likely be a threat to themselves or others.

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In a House Judiciary Committee meeting Wednesday, House Bill 75 received backing from the public. Twenty-nine of the first 30 people who testified on the bill said they support it as a way of preventing suicides and homicides.

Juneau-Douglas High School sophomore Stella Tallmon said she was inspired by the activism of the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, to testify in favor of the bill.

“As an American, I should not feel scared to come to school, but I am scared,” Tallmon said. “I’m scared that someone will come into my school and kill me or my two younger sisters or my friends with weapons that they should not possess. So I urge you to vote yes on House Bill 75 because we need stricter gun laws.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, said she tried to help her own brother before he killed himself. She said other deaths using guns were often preceded by warning signs.

“When we read about some of these stories, we know that family members have in fact been looking for something to do and wanting something – a tool – to use,” Tarr said. “And I think this can be an important prevention tool.”

Two groups of people could file petitions for the gun violence protective orders: immediate family members and police and other peace officers. The person with the guns would be given at least 10 days’ notice of the hearing to decide on the order. If the judge finds clear and convincing evidence that the person is a danger, the judge could issue a protective order prohibiting the person from possessing, owning, buying or receiving a firearm or ammunition for up to six months.

Family members or police officers could also seek emergency orders that don’t include the person with the guns in a hearing. If the judge finds that there’s a greater than 50 percent chance that the person could harm themselves or others, then the judge could issue an immediate emergency protective order that could last up to 20 days.

Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, a Republican who caucuses with the mostly Democratic House majority, questioned whether the bill would take away the gun rights of anyone with a diagnosis of clinical depression.

“I think it would be kind of an incentive not to seek psychiatric help for depression,” LeDoux said.

Tarr noted that mental health providers are not among those who could ask for the gun violence protective orders.

The committee didn’t vote on the bill Wednesday.