Reinstate the federal assault weapons ban

Aching for the Sandy Hook children and for the teachers who gave the last full measure of devotion trying to save them, many are asking once again what we can do to better protect innocent people.  To substantially reduce handgun and assault weapon availability, we need a federal solution.

From the facts of the case as they continue to emerge in the press, it appears that the shooter’s mother legally purchased the semiautomatic Bushmaster .223 assault rifle that the shooter used in the school.  Allowing these weapons to be available to the general public, even with background checks, makes it all too likely that they will fall into the wrong hands.

The opportunity for legislative action on the issue in Massachusetts is limited because (a) Massachusetts already has strong gun laws and (b) so many other states have weak laws and guns can easily cross state lines.

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence does identify some possible improvements in Massachusetts gun laws.   We should do what we can to strengthen our existing controls.

Additionally, we should review our school security and emergency plans.  The state already requires schools to have plans to address potential shootings.  In 2000, in response to the 1999 Columbine school shooting,  the legislature included the following language in the state budget for FY01 (Chapter 159 of the Acts of 2000, Section 363):

“Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, the superintendent of each school district shall, prior to the beginning of the school year, meet with the fire chief and police chief of the city, town or district to formulate a school specific “Multi-hazard evacuation plan” for each school under the superintendent’s supervision. Said multi-hazard evacuation plan shall encompass, but not be limited to, evacuations for fires, hurricanes and other hazardous storms or disasters in which serious bodily injury might occur, shootings and other terrorist activities, and bomb threats. Said plan shall be designed for each school building after a review of each building. Said plan shall include, but not be limited to: (1) establishment of a crisis response team; (2) a designation as to who is in charge of said team and designated substitutes; (3) a communication plan; (4) crisis procedures for safe entrance to and exit from the school by students, parents and employees; and (5) policies for enforcing school discipline and maintaining a safe and orderly environment during the crisis. Each district, with the assistance of the local police and fire departments, shall annually review and update as appropriate said plan. At the beginning of each school year, students at each school shall be instructed as to the plan that is developed.

Finally, we should consider what more we can do to recognize and address the kinds of personal and mental health issues that create a propensity to  mass violence.

It should be clear, however, that to substantially reduce the availability of the kinds of weapons that the Connecticut shooter used, we need a federal solution — guns are all too easy to transport across state lines.  Some Democrats in Congress are preparing to reinstate the federal assault weapons ban, but according to the Atlantic Wire,  in the Republican-controlled House, that proposal will face some opposition:

[Rep. Louie] Gohmert [of Texas] said Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung could have survived if she had a gun of comparable size in her office when Lanza started shooting. “I wish to God she had had an M4 in her office locked up and so when she heard gunshots … she takes his head off before he can hurt those kids,” he said. Gohmert agreed that the country needs to have a national conversation on gun control, but urged the conversation be “open minded.”

All is lost if we need to have all of our school administrative staff trained in the defensive use of assault weapons.  Let us hope that our leaders can come together on this issue at the national level.

Note: Those wishing to express support for federal action can sign a petition to the White House here.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

18 replies on “Reinstate the federal assault weapons ban”

  1. I am in accord with the positions you take, and will support your actions in walking the walk. I especially agree that guns travel so easily that major changes in regulating guns can only be effective at the national level, though we can make whatever changes we decide could be helpful here in Massachusetts.

    I asked my granddaughter’s parents what restrictions there were on entering her school, and they said if it was not a known person who was buzzing the office, someone might come to the door. Is that the safest solution? Do all schools have the financial means to protect themselves as they desire?

    Your statement “All is lost…” is most profoundly true. If we arm teachers, if we accept in any way that weapons intended for military use should be available to citizens for “self-defense”, what example are we setting for the children? They have seen what horror can be wrought by these weapons, intended only to kill and destroy, and yet we would be telling the next generation that the only way to stop violence is to ratchet up the possibility for yet MORE violence, and so the cycle goes on. Is this who we want to be as Americans, in a world crying out for peace?

  2. You have to remember that no matter what real gun control begins with the owner. Remember the Springfield officer that was killed this year – it was a corrections officer from NY. In fact many of the weapon related domestic violence incidents involve a Police officer who is the one with the gun – how bizarre is that ? When it comes to domestic violence and restraining orders – The Judges in Massachusetts are not doing their due diligence – it is sad that the Judges hand out restraining orders almost to anyone asking for one with out a plaintiff demonstrating they are in real danger (as required)

    Real gun control laws need to focus on the owners responsibility – more than that it is training and proper training.

    The fact is that anyone who wants to obtain a weapon can do so or build one with out too much difficulty – Weapons don’t kill – they do not fire by them selves , some one has to pull the trigger

    Maybe a drive for more compassion in our world is needed , not laws , who okays the laws just the people who are respectful citizens. This young man may have needed mental health help – but he was over 18 and neither Mom or Dad could do anything to help him you want real laws that help this is where to look. Maybe bringing back some of the mental health faculties would be a plus , instead giving the land the Fernald School is on , turn it back into a mental institution – Oh wait , then some greedy SOB’s couldn’t profit from such a deal.

  3. I think a cost effective solution would be to have a trained resource director or Principal of the school be trained and have on premise a firearm which could be used to stop this kind of carnage. I don’t think it’s realistic to think you will get all the States in the Country to hand in their guns. You would need to have house to house searches to confiscate the 300 million firearms that are already in homes across the country (good luck in Texas). You would also need to guarantee that no firearms could be smuggled over the border. I just don’t see this happening. The gun control laws in places like D.C., NYC, Chicago and L.A. have only made it more difficult or impossible for law abiding citizens to protect themselves. Criminals do not care much about gun control laws. You have only made their work easier by virtually guaranteeing they will have no problem attacking their victim. We have in effect created zones where criminals know people are disarmed and are easy to prey upon. Mexico would be another good case study. In Mexico, their citizens are not allowed to own firearms. Their has been over 40,000 deaths in Mexico over the past 5 years do to the drug war and corruption.
    I think the real problem is how our society is falling apart due to many factors. We have incredible amounts of violence in video games. Kids today play these games for hours on end every day. No real social contacts. This coupled with the massive increase in psychiatric drugs being over prescribed with little understanding of how it is affecting the human brain, especially a developing one. We also need to look at the culture in general; incredible violence on T.V. Also, how do we explain the millions of people our Government has killed in wars overseas in the past decade to our children. You now have people with a joystick in Florida killing people in Pakistan with drone attacks. You cannot live in such a violent culture with kids shuffled off to daycare, drugged up and exposed to this kind of sick culture and not have horrible outcomes.
    I really think people have a bit of phobia when it comes to firearms and need to look at this with a more open mind.

  4. Hi Will, I support you in this. If you’re looking for compromises, I’d go after gun sale loopholes, large ammo clips, and waiting periods. And I would also love it if there were more support for mentally ill people of all sorts, not just the tiny tiny fraction that is dangerously mentally ill.

    I would think that what worked in Australia might also be worth looking at.

  5. Yes, we need a Federal ban on all weapons designed for combat, with rapid-fire ability, and on all magazines capable of allowing shooters to shoot more people faster. We also need bans on large-scale sales of ammunition and I would like to see inter-state sharing of information on gun and ammunition purchases (much in the way we are starting to share info on use of prescription narcotics to catch people who are filling prescriptions from multiple doctors). After a similar incident in the UK in the 90s, all guns were banned from private citizens and the death rate by guns in 2011 in that country was 39 people total. Please do not support legislation that would put anyone who is armed in our schools. I don’t want my children to live in a veritable warzone and I don’t want to teach my children that they need to be hyper-vigilant (vigilant, ok, but not hyper-vigilant). We should have been at this cross-roads long before this terrible tragedy in CT. It should be harder to purchase and maintain a gun than it is to obtain and maintain a driver’s license. And it should be easier to obtain mental health care and services than it is to obtain a gun.

  6. I hope you will be joining Rep Linsky in strengthening the gun laws we have in Massachusetts and eventually to be a model for the entire nation. I am shocked that Gov Patrick’s idea to limit gun purchases to only one per month got so much negative attention that he had to withdraw that notion. I mean we are talking about a scourge that kills a larger share of us in our prime and youth than medical issues…this should not be the case without working hard to make it difficult.

    “Rep. Linsky told the News Service on Monday afternoon that thousands
    of assault weapons are legally owned in Massachusetts by individuals with Class A licenses. Those licenses, he said, require holders to pass a background check and interview with the local police chief.

    “You do not have to show any need or reason,” Linsky said.

    “There are far too many of these weapons out there, and they are far too easy to obtain,” he added. “I’m as motivated on this issue as I ever have been, and I’m not going to rest on this one.”

    “These guns cannot be used for hunting,” he said. “They cannot be used effectively for self-defense. These are weapons that have no role other than to blow away large amounts of people at the same time.”

    Linsky said he’s looking at proposals to address Class A licenses, loopholes in the assault-weapons ban law and the status of background checks.

    “I want to hear from my colleagues about what they would like to do and to see whether there are other ideas out there as well,” Linsky said. “I am convinced that public attitudes toward gun violence and gun-control legislation have dramatically changed in the past 72 hours. The public is demanding that we get these types of weapons of mass destruction off the streets.”

    Deval Patrick is also quoted as saying: I know we have an assault-weapons ban here, but there are still some things that I have proposed in the past in terms of limiting the number of guns that can be purchased in any given month, getting registrations extended to those who buy guns at gun shows and so forth.

    “There are a whole host of loopholes,” he added. “There are a great many more guns out in circulation than anybody believes is safe and wise, and we ought to be brave enough to have that debate.”

    During the last session, Patrick backed off a proposal to limit gun purchases to one per month in favor of an effort to create three new gun crimes for assault and battery with a firearm, assault with a firearm, and a “felon in possession law” that mirrors federal gun statutes. The proposal to limit gun purchases, at the time, drew the ire of gun owners who felt targeted for crimes they didn’t commit.

    “I just don’t accept that reasonable limitation on gun ownership strikes at the heart of the Second Amendment,” the governor said.


  7. In answer to concerns that there are already so many guns out there that it would take many years for a ban to have any effect, how about also banning ammunition for all but rifles?

  8. Go after the guns and ammunition! The mental health issue is certainly important in its own right, but it’s really hard to predict when, why or which people (with or without a diagnosis) will become crazy enough to perpetrate a mass slaying. Finally, while school security is important, it cannot be the primary focus: a highly motivated deranged person is likely to find a way in (and, in the meantime, the rest of us will have to endure this highly restrictive environment).

  9. It seems that in many of the recent mass shootings, mental health issues and gun access were involved with the shooter. I think that Massachusetts should think about requiring an annual review of all fire arms licenses and permits to inquire about the security of guns in the home, and if there are persons living in the home who have conditions that are problematic. To require that the gun owner annually re certify they are in compliance with required gun safety rules and are able to shoot straight to a minimum standard, and there are no people in the residence that have mental health issues that are may result in causing harm to themselves or others. If they fail to obey the rules, can not shoot to standard or have a person in the home who is being treated for a problematic mental health issue they should be required to keep their weapons at a gun club, out of the home, or give them up. Pistol permits should be more difficult to keep, and concealed carry permits should require a high level of proficiency in being able to shoot accurately. It is not enough to have rules, but to also have a on going process that keeps the gun owning citizen aware of their significant responsibility to maintain their weapons in a safe and secure manner. And the community’s right to know if the gun owner is being responsible about keeping weapons away from people who are not always able to be responsible.

    Secondly I think that the state should require any out of state purchase of weapons, weapons parts, ammunition, or ammunition parts by licensed or private parties be delivered through the local police departments, with a handling fee to defray expenses, and in-state gun dealers report sales on in state sales of these kinds of materials, to ensure that all sales are legal, and that the gun owner is in compliance with our state rules. This would also allow for the community to be aware if someone is stock piling ammunition, or buying an arsenal, and the state department of public safety to have a surveillance process to detect people who are becoming a danger to their neighbors. If such a system was in place in Arizona the shooting of the congress women may have been detected, and the shooting in Colorado should have been detected because the the Colorado shooter had purchased a very large amount of ammunition is a short amount of time. Both shooters in these mass shootings stocked up on gun supplies far in excess of any legitimate need. It should be a felony for both the out of state seller and the Massachusetts customer to evade these reporting requirements.

    Finally, It seems to me that there is a American cultural conflict with this issue as well as significant threat to many people’s means of making money. When the country was largely rural, or even much less urban as it is now guns were a normal part of every day life for hunting and sport for many members of our citizenry. But now, we do live mostly in urban communities, and most people do not have guns for hunting, or sport, but because they feel a need for protection. The “dirty harry” idea that the individual can protect himself against the wrongs of the community or that the community is indifferent to wrong committed by some individuals is mostly wrong. We would be safer if we as a community said that we must protect each other by being involved in the community and looked out for each other so that weapons were not viewed as an acceptable solution. But that requires an evolution of long held myths in our society.

  10. So, Daniel, I think you make a lot of excellent points. The one part that I find problematic is a component of the standard of review (para. 1) you propose for the annual re-certification. I am skeptical that those undertaking the proposed screening will have the necessary sophistication/information to apply a standard you describe as “persons living in the home who have conditions that are problematic” or “that have mental health issues that are may result in causing harm to themselves or others.” Most of the perpetrators of the recent mass murders did not, in fact, have a diagnosis of a serious mental health problem PRIOR TO committing their heinous crimes. If we decide to screen for “problematic” mental health “issues”, what concrete criteria would we use, and how would we know if they were effective? (Most screening today seems to look at prior criminal activity, and we know that that isn’t working). Would we deny anyone who is in therapy? That’s too broad and would discourage people from seeking help. Should we deny people or families of those who are taking psychotropic medications? Many of them are functioning quite well. Since a very large number of homicides involve angry ex-husbands or ex-boyfriends who, in rage, kill their exes and families, should we deny access to all of them? As one who’d just as soon see pretty much all personal guns out of circulation, I could go for that, but I doubt that we can get away with classifying all people who have had a bad breakup as high-risk. You see where I’m going. I don’t claim to have the answer, but it seems to me that other parts of your proposed solution are likely to be more effective in preventing gun violence than trying to predict which people are likely to snap. Thanks again for your thoughtful response!

  11. I don’t see how these myriad of restrictions would prevent the criminal from obtaining a weapon(s) and ammunition to attack law abiding citizens. Are you saying there would no longer be a black market in guns? Take a look at are failed drug war and the mess that has created. We also need to understand that the 2nd amendment is not about hunting rights. It’s about protecting your community from a tyrannical government foremost. In fact, that is the exact reason that sparked the battle on Lexington green. The British were coming to take the arms to keep the population in check as they implemented more draconian measures. I understand things change over time, but I do think governments will continue to go bad and the people must remain as a final check on tyranny. Also, what if society breaks down such as in the aftermath of Katrina or the L.A. rights. The New Orleans police all vacated their job and started looting themselves! I really think any number of events could unfold where society breaks down and it will be important to protect yourself from criminal elements.

  12. I mostly agree with Daniel, Helen and Mark even though they beg to differ. It seems to me that America produces guns and mental disorders at about the same rate, and the effects have started to tell. An arms race run by psychotics.

    Nothing I can imagine will stop or even slow the manufacture of firearms, but I can imagine measures to slow the production of desperate people. I’m not talking about more therapists, counselors, intervention specialists or multi-hazard evacuation plans. I’m thinking of reforms to the economy in which institutions exploit people and pit them against one another, deliberately manufacturing a sense of insecurity. This system may be hailed by social Darwinians, but I and others believe we can have a better society if we stop rewarding the creation of mass psychosis for commercial gain and government self-aggrandizement.

    It’s the crazies, stupid. Let’s stop manufacturing desperation and encouraging selfish and anti-social behavior for profit, and I just know things will get better.

  13. When something like the Newtown tragedy happens, one of the things I think about is: was it preventable? In particular, I’m thinking about preventing the deaths of 20 schoolchildren, either because of natural or human-created causes.

    In tornado-prone areas, we have devised a system of early warnings so that it is much less likely that a tornado can hit a school without some time for the children to seek protection.

    In China, school building collapses because of shoddy construction led to citizen action to prevent the corruption and collusion that created the hazard.

    There are no doubt some things that could have prevented the tragedy in Newtown. Many of these things would not have prevented a similar tragedy that befell some Amish schoolchildren in October of 2006. One thing that enabled both tragedies was the easy availability of semi- or fully automatic firearms and their ammunition.

    Here is my thinking about preventing, or at least mitigating, this particular hazard:

    1. Create legislation that eliminates the unrestricted availability of any kind of firearm that cannot be justified for hunting, target practice, or personal defense. This legislation should address as well the unrestricted availability of ammunition clips and inappropriate ammunition. The Federal Legislature will have to clarify and/or modify the Second Amendment so that this legislation can be uniform throughout the US.

    2. Foster a social climate that regards firearm possession as a significant responsibility for public welfare and any damage that it may create though its availability to anyone who may be able to access these firearms. I think a good analogy is drunk driving. We did not abolish alcohol. But we have a significant social stigma associated with drunk driving, both for perpetrators and enablers.

  14. I just read a long article on on Australia’s response to a Mass shooting in 1994. The response they choose was very effective. It Banned Assault style weapons, it required national gun registration, It banned private sales of weapons and ammunition; all weapon and ammunition sales needed to be done through a regulated dealers under government supervision, It required people to license each weapon and to have a reason other than personal protection to have a weapon, It required that all weapons be registered, and that grandfathered now illegal weapons could not be transferred to new owners but turned into the government or bought by the government. The result is that unlike the USA, Australia has not had a mass shooting event since. So unlike the Assault weapons ban experience the we had after Regan was shot, there was an effective response to mass shootings in Australia.

    Lets not pussy foot around the reason it is so complex to regulate weapons in the USA is that those in power that like the current system. They have made it very difficult to create a tight system of responsibility in our country because it would interfere with their source of money, politics or long held beliefs in the ineffectiveness of government. It is like other areas of our society where doing the right thing is thwarted by the parties that like the system as it is because it would derail the system they use to maintain their profits, power and the established order. As a foot note, Australia still has private gun ownership and they also have gun crime just a whole lot less of it than we do.

    I do not expect our Federal government to overcome this problem. It may be possible for the states to create better and more effective systems to control weapons through hazardous materials, environmental laws, and strict local licensing. The hazardous material laws to require disclosure of the out of state sales of dangerous goods to state residents, which is the real problem with getting local control of weapons. The free trade across state lines of the stock and trade of guns without respect to the customer state’s rules is the crux of why local control is very difficult.

  15. Members of the military have to undergo training to use weapons. Police have to undergo training and regular fitness for duty evaluations that include a mental health screen. We should borrow from these ideas for private citizens. Guns should be licensed and re-licensed at fixed intervals (we already have to do this for our cars, our professional licenses, and heck, even our pets!). Part of that licensing should include background checks and a screen for dangerousness–if people screen positive, they are referred for further evaluation and don’t get the gun license at that time. The second amendment says “a well regulated militia.” We need to make sure the regulations are there. The second amendment and gun-law reform can co-exist.

  16. Brilliant, Erikadance. I’m for it. But how would it work without putting every gun owner under potentially capricious scrutiny? Surely you understand how tricky it is to clinically evaluate mental capacity and stability. Just what procedures do you suggest for granting or renewing a firearms license?

  17. Some in the media have suggested a large decrease in violence, particularly gun violence in Australia, since they introduced stringent guidelines that basically disarmed the average citizen. I think people should take a look at the crime statistics in the below study (see link) put out by the Australian Government. Although there has been a slight decrease in gun violence, violent crime in general has actually gone up some years.

    Another aspect of the horrible mass shootings that we have seen since Columbine is that virtually all of these kids are on anti-depressants and anti-psychotic medication. There has been numerous studies that show a link of homicidal and suicidal ideations. Why is this never discussed? I view the evening news and all I see is drug commercials trying to push product. Could the mass media not want to bite the hand that feeds them?

  18. Recently received this email. I replied that, respectfully that I do support the assault weapons ban.
    Dear Elected Official,

    As your constituent, I strongly urge you to oppose any legislation to ban so-called “assault weapons” and “large” ammunition magazines.

    A previous ban on these inanimate objects was in effect from 1994-2004 and had no discernible effect on violent crime. In fact, a study of the ban mandated by Congress found: “At best, the assault weapons ban can have only a limited effect on total gun murders, because the banned weapons and magazines were never involved in more than a modest fraction of all gun murders.”

    Tens of millions of Americans choose to own semi-automatic firearms with ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds for the same reason as law enforcement officers: they are effective for self-defense. One never knows how many rounds he or she will need for self-defense or defense of others, or how many criminals may attack. Thus having a firearm that allows its lawful user to discharge multiple shots can often be the difference between life and death. In fact, a number of studies have shown that firearms are used for self-defense hundreds of thousands of times to
    2.5 million times annually. This amounts to guns being used 3-5 times more often for self-defense than to commit a crime.

    Rather than expanding previously failed legislation that won’t curb violence, but will affect law-abiding gun owners, I urge you to support legislation to enhance school security and improve our nation’s ailing mental health system.

    Please reply to me indicating your position on Sen. Feinstein’s most recent proposal. If you cannot support me on this issue, then I cannot support you in future elections.


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