Gun violence is an epidemic that plagues our communities, and takes the lives of so many of our citizens, including our children. At the time of the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., I had a school-age child in Newton, and couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that it could have been my kid. It was in the aftermath of Sandy Hook that I found myself getting involved in the gun violence prevention movement for the first time.
We know all too well that hundreds of school shootings have happened since Sandy Hook. The most recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., has reignited the national conversation around gun control. Our students are rightfully outraged, as are parents and teachers, because they all know that we need better laws to keep our children and communities safe.
I own a home on the Vineyard not too far from the high school, and drive past the school all the time. The thought that that beautiful center of Island life could experience something like Newtown or Parkland breaks my heart all over again. But what disturbs me most is that there was something we could have done to prevent these horrific school shootings.
While Massachusetts has some of lowest gun death rates in the county, we certainly are no exception to the persistent gun violence epidemic that faces our country.
Massachusetts needs to pass an Extreme Risk Protective Order (ERPO) this session. Connecticut, Indiana, Washington, Oregon, and California have already passed it; New York passed sweeping gun reform, including an ERPO bill, just this week. And there are 18 other states, among them New Jersey, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, and Maryland, that all have an ERPO bill pending.
In Massachusetts, ERPO has been pending for over a year, and yet has still not been approved by the legislature. Had ERPO been in place in Florida, the horrific Parkland shooting might not have happened. Massachusetts needs to take action now, not after the next inevitable tragedy.
An ERPO bill would allow a concerned family member to seek an emergency court order to have guns temporarily removed and the gun license temporarily revoked for someone at serious risk of harming themselves or others. Indeed, such a mechanism already exists in Massachusetts for instances of domestic violence. There is no reason the same protections shouldn’t be in place to prevent suicide and mass shootings. Many people are unaware that 60 percent of gun deaths in Massachusetts are suicides. Yet research shows that 90 percent of people who survive their first suicide attempt do not go on to die by suicide. So removing the most lethal means — firearms — from people at risk in a timely manner greatly increases the chance of distressed loved ones receiving the need they help.
Gun violence is a complex and multifaceted problem, and no one law or policy or program can solve it all. But that is not a reason to do nothing. ERPO represents a reasonable and necessary tool in the toolbox of reducing gun violence — one that makes use of existing infrastructure; respects individual rights; and empowers families to protect the ones they love from harming themselves or the public at large. There is no reason the citizens of Massachusetts should be deprived of this critical tool.
Janet Goldenberg is a 1991 graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law. She now serves on the board of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, and is a leader of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. She spends as much time as she can with family at their home in Oak Bluffs on the banks of Sengekontacket.