Peter Urban / ctnewsjunkie
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty (Peter Urban / ctnewsjunkie)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty on Tuesday urged Congress to “act now” to pass legislation that would encourage states to enact laws similar to one in Connecticut that permits the temporary seizure of weapons from individuals in crisis.

Such laws, she says, could be used to prevent mass shootings like the one that recently claimed the lives of 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

“The students from Parkland, many of whom met with us today are absolutely right — enough is enough. They can see it. They’ve grown up with active shooter drills,” Esty said. “We need to stop putting AR-15s and other weapons of war in the hands of dangerous people.”

The bill, H.R. 2598, the Gun Violence Restraining Order Act, would provide grants to states to create laws that would allow family members or law enforcement officials to petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms from an individual in crisis.

Connecticut was the first state to adopt such a law in 1999 following the 1998 mass shooting at the Connecticut Lottery headquarters in Newington. Three other states have since adopted similar laws that provide a “risk warrant” mechanism to remove guns from homes where an individual appears to present an immediate threat to themselves or others. Esty noted that a Duke University study found that the laws have likely saved more than 100 lives since being adopted.

A group of Connecticut Republicans, led by one of the authors of the 1999 risk warrant legislation, held a news conference Feb. 19 to highlight the law’s success. From 1999 through Feb. 16, state judges had issued 1,519 risk warrants. From 1999 through 2013, those warrants had led to 762 temporary removals of firearms, with an average of seven guns per removal.

Although Congress has done little to address gun safety despite dozens of mass shootings, Esty sees a chance for this legislation to pass given the grassroots activism that has erupted among high school students.

The bill also has a Republican co-sponsor — Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, who is a former FBI agent.

“Protecting the 2nd Amendment and keeping our communities safe are not mutually exclusive,” Fitzpatrick said at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol. “This is common sense legislation. It will save lives, affords due process and is consistent with the 2nd Amendment.”

Mark Barden, founder of Sandy Hook Promise, also attended the press conference to show his support for the legislation. Barden lost his son, Daniel, in the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Esty is also calling for a ban on high-capacity magazines and an end to the sale of AR-15s and other “weapons of war.” Esty noted the destructive power of a round fired from an AR-15 saying — as one radiologist described it — that it made human organs look like “overripe melons smashed by a sledgehammer.”

“That is the cost of doing nothing. The time has long passed, we need to act and we need to act now,” she said.