Students, activists, and lawmakers were united Wednesday in common cause: the support of Red Flag laws for Alaska.
“Alaska has the highest gun death rate in the country,” said Portia Carney, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaat.at Kalé and a member of Students Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “The best way to prevent gun violence is to pass this Red Flag law.”
Red Flag laws, already long signed into law in some states, allow law enforcement officers to petition a judge to temporarily relieve someone of their firearms and prohibit them from buying more. The law requires the officers to present evidence, such as requesting a domestic violence protective order, and offers the party in question the chance to defend themselves. The idea is that the laws would be put into use for people suffering from severe mental issues, suicidal thoughts or domestic violence cases.
“The legislation is limited in scope and temporary in nature,” said Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage, who introduced Senate Bill 198 Wednesday morning, a companion bill to House Bill 62, which calls for the enacting of Red Flag laws in Alaska.
“The evidence that is being collected from these states show that it’s reduced firearm suicides, mass shootings and school shootings,” said Justina Sullivan, Alaska social media lead for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “I come from a hunting family and gun safety is very important. I think that gun owners have to have a voice in the solution.”
Wednesday saw citizens from across the state fly to Juneau for the first Moms Demand Action attempt to visit all the legislators to push the Red Flag bill.
“This was easier than people trying to dial in on their own,” Sullivan said. “Lots of people donated miles to make it happen.”
Of all suicides in Alaska, 72% are gun related, Sullivan said. One hundred and 20 people in Alaska are killed every year with firearms. And in domestic violence situations, the presence of a gun is rarely good news, Sullivan said.
Gray-Jackson was quick to cite gun violence, suicide and public health crisis in the state as the reason she introduced the bill, not the Second Amendment. The Red Flag laws, Gray-Jackson said, would help to address those who need help, temporarily removing the quickest and surest means of harming themselves or others and giving them time to attend to their mental health.
“I think it’s really important that we do something now to address the gun violence in this state,” Gray-Jackson said. “This bill does nothing to alter anyone’s Second Amendment rights.”
Grey-Jackson said a poll in the Kenai Peninsula Clarion showed more than 80% support for Red Flag laws. A law like this would strike a balance between allowing someone to maintain their guns even if they were mentally unstable and fully institutionalizing them and stripping them of all rights, Gray-Jackson said.
“I think it’s an opportunity for people who are concerned about the fact that Alaska has the highest right of gun violence and the second highest rate of gun suicide,” said Jan Caulfield, member of Moms Demand Action. “I used to call my senators and ask why aren’t you doing something on a national level, and then I thought, what am I doing?”
While Gray-Jackson was on the floor of the Senate introducing SB-198, members of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action were circulating the Capitol, talking to staffers and lawmakers about HB 62. HB 62, which Sullivan said languished in the Judicial Committee last year, needs to make it to full House to advance.
Everyone supporting both bills had a personal reason for doing so. For some, it was massacres at Sandy Hook, Parkland or Orlando. For others, it was more personal, gun violence or careless gun use in their families or childhoods. But all were adamant in the need to make a better, safer future for all Alaskans.