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Alaska Democrat proposes gun bill after airport shooting

Alaska state Rep. Geran Tarr speaks to reporters during the House majority's weekly news conference on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, in Juneau, Alaska. Tarr has introduced legislation that seeks to temporarily bar access to guns by people deemed by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)

A deadly airport shooting in Florida has helped spur a bill in Alaska that would allow authorities to temporarily take away guns from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

The proposal, from Rep. Geran Tarr, an Anchorage Democrat, was introduced after the Jan. 6 attack at a Florida airport that killed five and wounded six others. The alleged gunman, Esteban Santiago, is from Anchorage.

"I want family members to feel empowered to speak up and say something and hopefully, maybe, we can prevent the next violent thing from happening," Tarr told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Tarr said she had been looking for ways to address violence in her district when the Florida shooting happened. The bill was introduced Monday.

Authorities said that in November, Santiago went to the FBI office in Anchorage and made disjointed comments about mind control. He was taken in for a mental health evaluation and released after several days. The gun he'd had in his vehicle when he went to the FBI office was later returned to him. Authorities said it was the same gun used in the airport shooting spree.

The bill would let immediate family members or police seek protective orders against those believed to be a danger to themselves or others by having access to a gun. Depending on the type of order, a person could be barred from having or attempting to buy a gun or ammunition from three days to as long as six months, though it could be dissolved earlier.

Under the bill, once an order is issued, the person would have to surrender any guns and ammunition the person has or sell them to a gun dealer. Surrendered items would be returned once an order expires.

It's unclear whether the bill will gain traction. House Minority Leader Charisse Millett, an Anchorage Republican, wanted to learn more about the bill before commenting, minority spokeswoman Mallory Walser said by text message.

The National Rifle Association and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence did not immediately return messages seeking comment Tuesday.

California and Connecticut have gun violence protection order laws, said Jon Griffin, a program principal with the National Conference of State Legislatures. In an email Tuesday, he said bills on the topic were proposed or carried over in at least six states last year but none passed.

Tarr, whose brother killed himself, said high standards would have to be met to prove someone was a danger to themselves or others and she doesn't see the potential for abuse.

But along with efforts like this, she said there needs to be attention on expanding mental health services and access to counseling. The state doesn't have enough treatment beds, she said.

She credits expanded Medicaid coverage with helping people with behavioral health issues receive access to services.

"You definitely have to come at this from all angles," she said.

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