Garfield Students Helped Push State’s Gun Reform Legislation

Last summer, Gov. Charlie Baker signed important state gun reform legislation that now allows household members, or others in close relationships, and local law enforcement to file an extreme risk protection order (ERPO) petition with the court to remove firearms from dangerous individuals.

The legislation was in response to the February 2018 Parkland Shooting in Florida that killed 17 students and teachers at the Stone Douglas High School. The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, suffered from and a wide array of mental health issues but was still legally able to purchase guns in his home state.

Following the horrific incident students in Bridget Shepard’s Garfield Middle School advisory class began discussing the shooting, the emotions they were feeling, different types of activism in response to the shooting and how they could better share their concerns and articulate their voice when it comes to gun reform legislation.

The students in Ms. Shepard’s class began a letter campaign to Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo’s office. Students wrote about their concerns surrounding the ERPO gun bill being debated on Beacon Hill in the wake of the shooting.

“It began with all of us having a discussion so students were well informed of the incident and have a chance to express what they felt about it,” said Shepard.

Shepard said the class began to discuss some actions they could take like writing to lawmakers.

“Most students said they wanted to take action and write a letter to politicians,” said Shepard.

During her report to the Revere School Committee on the letter writing campaign and how it may have influenced state leaders, Shepard’s student from last year, Santiago, accompanied her to the meeting.

Reading from a letter he wrote urging gun reform, Santiago said, “If we think of all the victims of mass shooting it would fill a whole page. That is why I ask for you to help make the U.S. safer for everyone.”

During the students letter writing campaign last spring Joan Moscillo from the Speaker’s office as well as City Counselor Ira Novelselsky met with the students regarding the ERPO bill.

As the bill moved through the House and Senate, Speaker DeLeo sent a letter back to the students and told them that their letters had helped him make the decision to move the vote to the House Floor and seek support from his colleagues.

“I’m proud that the House passed legislation to enhance public safety by allowing for the temporary suspension of a gun license in a situation where someone poses a risk to themselves or others,” DeLeo said at the time. “In Massachusetts, we have the most effective gun laws in the country. Now, we have a new way to keep people safe and prevent senseless tragedies. I was so moved by the many students I heard from, especially those in my district including Ms. Sheppard’s class at Garfield Middle School. Your voices are powerful and I encourage you to stay involved.”

Then once the bill was signed into law, the Speaker of the House sent each student a copy of the new law, as well as one of the pens that Gov. Baker used to sign the law.

Of the bill being signed into law, DeLeo gave special recognition to the students that influenced state lawmakers to move on this reform.

“With the passage of this legislation, Massachusetts once again leads the nation with the strongest and most effective gun laws in the country,” he said in a statement after the bill was signed. “This bill will prevent senseless tragedies and help keep Massachusetts’ children safe. I would like to recognize the students who raised their voices on this life-saving measure.”

Once an ERPO petition is filed, a hearing must be held within 10 days, and if the court finds that an individual poses a risk to themselves or others, the court can order the immediate surrender of all weapons and the individual’s firearm license. An ERPO can last up to one year.

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