Feeling a bit blue today? Feel like taking some time in your shop reloading?
Rep. Geran Tarr of Anchorage has a fix for that.
Tarr has a proposal that would allow a judge to seize your guns and ammo if your family or the courts decide you are mentally ill and a danger to yourself or others.
But this is just the beginning, said many testifiers during today’s first hearing on HB 75. Although more gun control is needed, they said, HB 75 is the one baby step the government can take right now, in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida school shooting, which left 17 young people dead.
Tarr introduced HB 75 in 2017, after an Iraqi war veteran from Anchorage traveled 4,000 air miles to Florida and shot and killed people at the Fort Lauderdale airport.
Esteban Santiago had, months earlier, walked into the FBI office in Anchorage with a loaded handgun magazine. He was clearly agitated and told agents he was experiencing “terroristic thoughts,” and he told them the CIA was making him watch ISIS videos.
The FBI referred his case to Anchorage authorities and Santiago was admitted to Alaska Psychiatric Institute. He was delusional and paranoid. Police took his gun. Four days later, he was released and his gun was given back to him. He went on to kill five people and injure six others in Florida.
That incident, plus all the crime in Anchorage and the suicide death of her own brother, spurred Rep. Tarr to draft HB 75 last year. Her answer to violence is to take guns away from those who are mentally ill.
But as the details of Santiago’s descent into madness unfolded, it became clear that all the systems to stop him from doing harm to others were in place, but simply failed. The bill didn’t seem ripe last year.
HB 75 was never heard until today, when it was the top subject in the House Judiciary Committee, where Committee Chairman Matt Claman allowed Tarr to dust off her proposal and present it in light of a more recent mass shooting and a more tender current public sentiment.
HB 75 would establish a gun “risk protective order,” allowing police or others to get a quick ruling on the mental stability of a person who owns weapons.
Judges could then order weapons and ammunition seized, with or without a hearing.
During today’s committee hearing, both invited and public members talked about gun violence and student safety.
But before long, the reason people wanted HB 75 to be passed included suicide as a main reason. Alaska has a high rate of suicide and HB 75 could reduce it, said person after person who stepped to the microphone.
Sally Rue, former school board president, was among the several testifiers who mentioned suicide as a reason to pass HB 75, although she was also concerned about school shootings.
Rep. Reinbold of Eagle River wondered what other things might be taken away from people who might harm themselves, whether it’s the forcible taking of car keys or pills. She focused on hardening the safety of school buildings.
John Sonin of Juneau testified that he represents “civilized humanity” and that “this craziness going on in the White House” was evidence enough that there is a mental health crisis in the country.
Only one person testified against the bill, among approximately two dozen who spoke.
In practical terms, the bill would not do much more than the law currently allows through 48-hour psychiatric holds now permitted under State Statute.
Democrat Reps. Ivy Spohnholz and Harriet Drummond are cosponsors of the HB 75, which did not move from committee.