There many distinct types of gun violence including domestic violence, gang violence, and suicide. All are tragic, but mass murder by irrational shooters has catapulted to the top of the legislative agenda as a result of the Sandy Hook tragedy.
There is a clear need for federal action — click here for my statement calling for federal action. Click here for the President’s proposals on gun control.
Additionally, all of us need to ask what more we can do in Massachusetts. All ideas are on the table right now and your thoughts will be much appreciated.
Reference Materials — Federal Gun Law
- Federal Firearms Laws Overview Presentation
- Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence — federal gun law page
- Heller opinion on the Second Amendment
- McDonald opinion on the Second Amendment
- Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
- Federal Bureau of Investigation, Background Check System
Reference Materials — Massachusetts Gun Laws
The Massachusetts Department of Public Safety maintains an excellent summary of Massachusetts Rules and regulations at its website — click here to access the Mass DPS site. Massachusetts fire arms laws are much stricter than the federal laws and by contrast to the federal laws include:
- A requirement that to have any firearm one must be licensed, with several grades of licenses for more dangerous weapons. New license applicants must show proof of training and for higher grade licenses, police chiefs have discretion to deny licenses.
- A requirement that all firearms transactions be reported to a central registry, the Firearms Records Bureau. The central records of who is licensed and what firearms they own are confidential, accessible only to law enforcement.
- A requirement that firearms licensees report their address and any change of address to the Firearms Record Bureau
- A licensing framework for dealers, with a requirement that guns sold by dealers meet safety standards, related to
- structural integrity and resistance to overheating
- possibility of accidental discharge
- possibility of firing more than one round per trigger pull
- barrel length and accuracy
- A requirement that all guns sold in the Commonwealth be sold with a safety locking device of some type — DPS publishes an approved list of such devices.
- A requirement that all firearms be secured in a locked container or equipped with a tamper resistant lock
- A ban on assault weapons as defined in G.L. c. 140, § 121 which makes reference to 1994 federal law
- A limit (four) on the number of guns one can sell privately without requirement to be licensed as a dealer.
- Requirements for firearm safety courses
The problem of illegal guns and the associated murders and injuries is not just the fault of the person with the illegal gun. The fault includes the person(s) who sold or distributed the gun, and the person who originally owned the legal gun, who did not keep the gun securely locked away. This is a system problem, which HR4121 helps to address, by requiring registration in cases where
there is a sale. Holding all parties responsible, and educating the population on the need to stop illegal gun trafficking is important.
I urge you to support the Senate gun safety bill, S2265, with amendments proposed by Senator Creem and advocated by the Mass Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. (I left an explanation of the six most important amendments and one the Coalition feels is essential to defeat in your office today, with Jeanne Mooney.)
The bill, with amendments supported by the Mass Coalition, is an important step forward in preventing gun violence in our state. It’s comprehensive and takes multiple approaches to the complicated problem of gun violence. For example, it provides for suicide prevention training and other mental health approaches, requires greatly improved data collection about guns used in suicides and crimes, requires a background check in private sales and extends the discretion of police chiefs’ to deny FID cards on the basis of suitability. All these steps are part of a broad approach to improving public safety and public health by educating, providing services and keeping guns out of the hands of unsuitable people.
Giving police chiefs discretion in issuing FID cards, perhaps the most controversial provision, is a way of using the knowledge of local law enforcement to assess a person’s suitability for gun ownership. Why not take advantage of all the current information local authorities have about a person’s suitability? After all, gun liscenses in our state are good for six years, and a lot can happen in someone’s life in six years that might cause that person to be a danger to himself, his family or the public.
If an applicant feels he was wrongly denied an FID card, the proposed law provides for an appeal process and requires police chiefs to put in writing their reasons for denying. The rights of applicants are protected, but so are all citizens’ right to public safety. A nice balance, I believe.
Our world is not one of easily identified “good” guys and “bad” guys, but a world of people–law abiding citizens, criminals and everyone else–who sometimes act impulsively, get angry or depressed, or make foolish or very bad decisions. There are many steps Massachusetts can take to prevent all kinds of people from resorting to the misuse of guns. S2265 contains a range of such gun violence prevention strategies.
Recent events in the US, where gun suicides and crimes are the highest per capita in the industrialized world, demonstrate that many guns don’t make us safer. I ask that you support the thoughtful, comprehensive and common sense provisions of S2265 with Sen. Creem’s amendments, to strengthen public safety for all citizens.
The problem with FID suitability is that there is a constitutionally protected right to own a gun. We would never subject any other rights to the discretion of what is essentially an appointed bureaucrat and tell the person they need to go to court (and pay a lawyer), to appeal a denial of a right. Instead, it would be up to the government to prove, through the judicial process, that the person’s right ought to be revoked.
Further, from what I’ve been able to research, the instances of crimes and suicides by licensed gun owners in MA is approaching zero. You’ve listed hypotheticals but there’s little evidence to back it up.
One of Senator Creem’s amendments would outlaw what is now lawfully owned property. This might not meet the strict definition of ex post facto law, but, morally, telling someone to dispose a durable good that was lawfully purchased is ex post facto.
Learned and reasonable people have different interpretations of the Second Amendment, but the weight of opinion (as I read some on this topic) comes down on the side of the Second Amendment NOT guaranteeing an individual right to own firearms. Beginning as it does with “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state….”, it seems to me that the framers were talking about state militias, not individuals. But I leave that argument to others who have expertise in Constitutional law.
Applying a common sense approach to individual rights is another way to think about this, though. You’re free to do as you please, as long as you don’t interfere with my right to do as I please, or something like that. To cite an old example, none of us is free to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater unless there actually is a fire. Some of us should not be gun owners ever (felons)or at certain points in our lives (domestic abusers, depressives). I believe that our collective right to public safety supports police chiefs having discretion in issuing FID (firearm identification) cards.
Further, Massachusetts officials should exercise all reasonable caution in issuing gun licenses and FID cards. Situations may be hypothetical, but guns are lethal, and they obviously fall all too often into the wrong hands, creating a danger to all of us, as the increasing number of shootings in public places and private homes illustrates.
Homicide and suicide being more likely to occur in homes and families where a gun is present, I doubt your statement that few if any licensed gun owners have committed gun crimes or suicide, especially if one includes the family members and intimates of the gun owners in the calculation. The key to so many fatal accidents or intentional deaths of all types is access to a firearm. There are about 32,000 gun deaths a year in the US, 18,000 of them suicides, rates amazingly higher than all other industrialized countries, all of which have much stricter gun safety laws than the US.
Can’t comment on your last paragragh.
I am grateful to previous legislators that put in place the gun safety laws that Massachusetts does have, which play a part in our state having the second lowest (Hawaii is ahead of us) rate of gun deaths in the US. As a state we need to continue to address the gun violence problem by every means possible, including data collection and research, mental health approaches such as suicide prevention programs, and regulation, including suitability standards to keep guns out of the hands of those who are a danger to themselves, their families or their communities.
At this point, the US Supreme Court has found that there is an individual right to own a gun as found in the Heller v. DC decision. That ruling was then incorporated against the states via McDonald v. Chicago. This is settled law.
In 2011, there were 12,600 total murders in the US. So, there may have been 32,000 “gun deaths”, if you’re implying there was 14k gun murders, that seems to be incorrect. It’s also worth noting that NH and VT have the lowest murder rates in the country, despite having very lax gun control laws (VT in particular requires no license for concealed carry of a gun). There’s evidence to support that the violent crime rate in MA has increased since the 1998 gun control act.
Given the relevant laws we already have in this state (which even state DA’s have a hard time truly understanding), I think the whole set of laws needs to be reviewed as to how effective they are, as opposed to simply adding more laws.
Thanks, Ann. We did pass many of the Creem amendments.
See more at this link: http://willbrownsberger.com/update-on-the-gun-bill/
Calling for federal action would make sense, if the federal legislatures were functioning, but they are not. Whereas, the state is where SOME improvement may be made. Please share the dream of a safer world with HR4121 passed with your Senate colleagues.
I am disappointed in the gun bill passed yesterday by the Senate. In an apparent response to objections by the NRA at the national level, the Senate dropped an important provision that was key to the compromise made in the House version.
That compromise, supported by the Mass Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, was to give local police chiefs discretion in issuing FID cards for long guns. The chiefs already have this discretion in issuing licenses to carry for handguns and large capacity firearms. In return, an appeals process was established for people who feel they are wrongly denied, and the chiefs must put in writing their reasons for denial. Fair enough, right? Not when one side of the compromise is dropped.
Will, I hope you will stand for giving police chiefs this discretion. It’s another way of keeping guns out of the hands of unsuitable people. Otherwise, it seems as if we are turning our state as well as our national gun policy over to the NRA and the gun lobby. For some perspective, think where we would be on public health problems such as smoking and auto safety if we allowed the tobacco and automobile industry to control relevant legislation and research the way we have ceded gun safety legislation to the gun lobby and NRA.
Thanks, Anne. I did vote your perspective on the suitability issue, but I felt it was a close call — the the statutory red flags which prohibit FID cards for criminals, etc., do provide a lot of protection.
One thing worth saying. I don’t think that the NRA was a player in this debate, although they did show up at the end of the process. It was local lawful gun owners, talking to their representatives and senators who moved the center of the debate over the last 18 months.
It’s a mischaracterization to say that local police chiefs don’t have discretion on long guns They do on many types of them due to how the licensing structure works. The FID only allows a person to buy a “low capacity” rifle or shotgun. This essentially means hunting rifles and shotguns for duck hunting and skeet. As I mentioned, the US Supreme Court has found that there is an individual right to own a gun, and police chiefs shouldn’t have the power to get to decide to exercises a right. An appeals process as a remedy has been found, in all other civil rights areas, has been found to be unacceptable.
I’d like a safer world also. Logically though, if gun control laws like these actually lead to the US being a safer country, there would be evidence of them having made areas with strict gun control safer. Part of my job is data analytics and I’ve poured over the FBI UCR data and haven’t found any correlation. One of our own state reps has some interesting articles on the topic: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-heroux/
Also, the objections weren’t from the NRA. They were from GOAL and law abiding gun owners in MA. The NRA, for all intents and purposes, does not exist in MA.
I for one would have liked your side to offer up some evidence that FID discretion would have actually solved problems. The FID in its current incarnation has been around since 1998. If there is a problem, there must be some case that is evidence of that.
Got it. I absolutely share the dream of a safer world. Part of that is better mental health treatment.
We’re waiting for the House bill to come over to the Senate and we’ll give it a close look. I’m committed to improving our regulatory scheme in any way that is likely to have a practical benefit.
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