The conversation about gun violence has everyone’s attention as a result of the tragedy at Sandy Hook. A meeting last week in the State House members lounge drew well over 100 people, with a long waiting line out the door and down the hall (equaling those rare occasions when food is served).
Natick representative David Linsky, who had done a nice job organizing the meeting, opened the meeting, and, after several presentations, a useful brainstorming session ensued.
The conversation was focused on the mass killings like Sandy Hook, more than the sadly routine urban gang violence which actually claims more lives. Although the room strongly supported a federal assault weapons ban, there was some pessimism about Congress’ ability to get that done.
The main question was what more can we do in Massachusetts. Representative initially Linsky highlighted five areas:
1) Licensing standards. Currently, although a handgun license may be denied by a police chief, a police chief has no discretion to deny a long gun license even if he has concerns about the applicant’s stability.
2) Rules on storage of weapons, possibly requiring some weapons to be kept in locked locations outside of homes, for example at gun clubs.
3) Police chief access to mental health information about applicants. Currently available federal data only includes involuntary civil commitments and even that record is incomplete. Of course, there are countervailing concerns about expanding that database — privacy and the risk of people from seeking treatment were acknowledged. The alternative is to require people seeking a license to sign some kind of release for their own personal treatment records.
4) Loopholes in Massachusetts’ own ban on assault weapons — the ban does not apply to pre-1994 weapons and also rules could be tightened on ammunition.
5) Requiring gun owners to carry liability insurance — thus bringing insurers into the business of encouraging safe gun practices.
Additional ideas that were raised in the brainstorming included:
1) Limiting the rate at which people purchase guns (Governor Patrick has supported this measure which others have proposed).
2) Gun buy back programs.
3) Regulation of purchase of body armor — ironically in some of the mass murder incidents the cowardly killers have gone out clothed in body armor.
4) Regulating the video game and other content that may make violence seem more acceptable.
5) School safety plans and teacher training (the Commonwealth already requires each school to have an emergency plan).
6) Raising age thresholds for gun use.
7) The NRA thought of posting armed volunteers at schools was generally ridiculed.
8) Generally strengthening our mental health care system.