Fueled by many factors, including the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., and ongoing gun violence plaguing our cities, the call for gun safety legislation has arisen nationally and here in Massachusetts.
Due to the complete inability to move legislation on this issue at the federal level, those speaking out on the need for gun safety legislation have turned to the states. In March 2013, Massachusetts Speaker Robert DeLeo convened a special task force to offer recommendations on gun safety legislation. The task force has, after nine months of meeting with a variety of experts and interest groups, released its report, complete with 44 recommendations for updates to Massachusetts law.
Many of these recommendations merit close consideration and are in keeping with the goals of the Massachusetts Coalition on Gun Violence, an umbrella organization of leading gun safety groups in the commonwealth.
Formed in 2013 in response to the Newtown tragedy, the coalition has set its key legislative priorities. The top priorities of the coalition are: universal background checks at each point of sale, including gun shows and secondhand sales; sharing of records of adjudicated commitments for mental health and substance abuse with the National Instant Check System; expand the suitability standard requirements for the issuance of FID cards (purchasing permits); require authorities to determine the origin of each gun used criminally and maintain that information in a statewide database for use; and limit handgun sales to one per month. The report offered by the Gun Safety Task Force features four of these five top recommendations, unfortunately omitting the one handgun per sale month restriction.
I am a staunch supporter of any sensible steps that we can take to curb gun violence in our state. The task force report offers a blueprint for gun safety legislation. The report includes a number of other recommendations. Specific highlights are:
– Specify which factors constitute a “suitable person for gun ownership,” something currently up to the discretion of local police chiefs.
– The elimination of Class B gun licenses that allow for non-concealed, low-capacity firearms.
– At the time of license renewal, require each gun owner to verify and sign an affidavit that he or she still owns all the guns legally registered to him or her and increase penalties for failure to report lost or stolen firearms.
– Strengthen the provisions of school-based mental health services.
– Increase funding for mental health and substance abuse disorders resources in urban areas.
Although Massachusetts currently has some of the most comprehensive gun safety laws in the nation, we can do better. Among a variety of other steps, I have met with leadership in the House of Representatives to urge action this year. I believe there is some momentum to undertake reform, but it is unclear if legislation will pass this year. It is difficult to say at this point the exact reforms that the House will take up, but it is most likely that such legislation would be based on the measures suggested in the task force report.
Protecting the public from gun violence is one of the great challenges of our time. Given the ability to transport firearms across state lines, the hard truth is that we need national legislation. But with Washington in a state of paralysis on this issue (and countless others), here in Massachusetts we must do all we can to address the issue. With hope and hard work, moving toward a safer Massachusetts is within our reach.
Dave Rogers is the state representative from the 24th Middlesex District (Belmont, Arlington precincts 2,4, 8, 10, 12, and Cambridge precincts 11-1 and 11-3).