What can we do about gun violence in Massachusetts?

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.

Your thoughts?

Published by Will Brownsberger

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

65 replies on “What can we do about gun violence in Massachusetts?”

  1. PaulWilson … In response to your post earlier today, I have to stick by my opinion that so-called assault weapons in civilian hands today are basically toys, with a particularly deadly potential. You point out that some do use them for serious target shooting. Let’s face it, shooters, even with toys, like to shoot targets sometimes. In the Military Police, we used to shoot targets with our .45 caliber “grease guns”, hardly a target gun. I’m sure some also use assault weapons for hunting. Shooting paper targets or coke bottles gets boring. I recall a bunch of us from our post pistol team lining up with .357s, .38s, .45s, or whatever else we had, “hunting” jackrabbits. If I owned an assault weapon back then, I would have been happy to go hunting to see what I could get. But that didn’t make it a hunting rifle.

    The assault weapons we’re talking about can indeed be used for target shooting or for hunting. So can fully automatic weapons. We have to balance legitimate use with the carnage that any particular type of weapon can cause. Moreover, the range of existing target and hunting guns is currently quite vast without adding assault weapons to the list. And no one needs a magazine of more than 10 rounds for target shooting or for hunting.

  2. DonCarlson, I mentioned “Camp Perry Service Rifle” specifically because it is pretty much the foremost target shooting competition in the country. This isn’t going into a sand pit and shooting at cans. Further, they are used for serious hunting, like hunting feral pigs in Texas and other states where those feral pigs do a huge amount of crop damage. This isn’t shooting jackrabbits for the fun of it (Which is a horrible form of hunting. Animals should only be hunted if people need to eat or the animal is doing damage).

    As for magazine capacity, in 1994 the politicians decided 10 rounds was enough. As of 2013, Governors Cuomo and Patrick have decided 7 rounds is enough. What’s the conclusion of that logic? 4 rounds (as was mentioned elsewhere on this board)? 1 round?

    This is all ignoring the fact that whenever the Supreme Court has weighed in on the 2nd amendment, hunting and target shooting was never mentioned.

  3. PaulWilson … I know Camp Perry, a serious place, and I’m sure that using an assault weapon on feral pigs is quite satisfying for some. Reminds me of movies where adults constantly complain about some activity of teenagers, yet that activity saves the day.

    But we have to come back to balance and common sense. We’ve seen too often the unique destructive power of assault weapons in the hands of deranged people. In a nation of more than 300 million people, we’re always going to have deranged people, whether temporarily (lost my job, shoot up the company) or permanently deranged. Do we want to let them have easy access to that destructive power? In my view, no we don’t.

  4. Then Don, would it not follow to focus on laws and actions that prevented those individuals who are mentally ill from getting firearms? Things like better background checks, storage laws (which we already have) and licensing (which TBH is over complicated in MA) could handle this.

  5. DonCarlson, your mischaracterization of what I said is, frankly, insulting. The hunting of feral pigs isn’t done for to pass the time, unlike some hunting. It’s done to protect crops (which we all need). You said that these guns aren’t used for serious target shooting and now you say the place where it happens is serious. So which is it?

    Back in the 80s, there were mass shootings. The one at Luby’s cafeteria was a notable one and immediately afterwards, people cried out to ban handguns because they were “only made for killing people”. Sound familiar? This time an AR15 was used (and the term “assault weapon” was coined by a politician and is meaningless). So the next time one of these tragedies occurs, and a handgun was used, will the hew and cry swing back to that object? The Virginia Tech shooting was caused by a madman using handguns and that had a higher death toll than Newtown. In fact in terms of murders nationwide, “assault weapons” are a fraction of a percent. Clearly the “unique destructive power of assault weapons” really isn’t that unique, and not prevalent at all.

  6. PaulWilson … You make a very good case for restrictions on all guns. These massacres would not have happened if the perpetrator were armed with a knife. Nor would tens of thousands of other deaths have occurred if handguns in particular were not so readily available to bad guys or to people temporarily deranged by a family or workplace dispute.

    And your comments make me realize how people seeking legislative action to reduce gun violence have, in effect, given lots of ground already to those opposing more gun controls, by pressing for restrictions only on so-called assault weapons. I assume the gun lobby is quite pleased that the fight is so narrowed, which, of course, doesn’t deter them from fighting tooth and nail to prevent even those restrictions.

  7. JasonGrigely … It would help incrementally, but before taking that very complex path (privacy, doctor/patient confidentiality, level of illness, etc.)it would be good to know how many people actually judged “mentally ill” before the fact have caused gun violence. Would the recent massacres have been prevented by this requirement? Also, I suspect our current haphazard ways of identifying the mentally ill, and assessing them in relation to their capacity for violence of any sort is not up to the task, and may never be.

    Background checks for all gun purchases (vs. the reported 60% nationally today) would probably screen out many more potential perpetrators. But it has to be at the national level to avoid someone just nipping across state lines to buy and import guns they couldn’t buy here.

  8. I’m sorry people, but all of this talk about more gun control in a state that is ranked as one of the highest in the nation for said “control” is going too far.

    It appears on its face to be simply a reaction to Sandy Hook with the mindset of “we must do SOMETHING”. In other ways it appears to be an excuse of those who want to advance their legislation that would not have had a chance prior to Sandy Hook.

    The investigation in to Sandy Hook is not complete, and no information will be forthcoming for another 90 days (atleast). To me, it seems ill advised to take action when you don’t have all of the facts.

    We DO know that in CT there was all ready an assault weapons ban, and that shooter could not legally purchase a firearm. We do not know how the rifel, shotgun, and firearms were stored – Mass all ready has safe storage laws.

    The semi-automatic rifles that have been labelled “assault rifles” have been used in a fraction of one percent of crime (FBI statistics). The rifles are higly preferred by many people of different “walks of life”. They are light, and can be adjusted to fit, and have many variations. But at the core, are the same as a wooden stock hunting rifle that no one seem to focus on. But the popularity of the “AR” platform is ergonomics and flexibilty. It also helps many women be able to shoot a rifle.

    Regarding those on here mentioning how many rounds someone should be allowed to have in a firearm, frankly, it’s absurd. To be able to predict how many people may be involved in a defensive situation, and then add in the factor of movement and adrenaline and there’s no way you can tell me how many rounds are needed to protect yourself. It’s very different than standing stationary and calm, shooting at a paper target at 30′.

    How many of you realize that to obtain a license to carry in MA an applicant must go throuh a minimum of 23 steps in the process? The Chief of Police can add more at his discretion.

    I have yet to see a reason to futher impede the process and access for the citizens of this state who wish to legally obtain firearms.

  9. To LisaP; it’s also about the business of guns too. In the late 90s the NRA went beyond being a lobbyist and became the dominant business advisor to gun manufacturers. They stopped the development of smart guns. When Smith & Wesson tried forcing their distributes to be responsible to where the guns were going, the NRA started a boycott of S&W guns and drove them into bankruptcy. Then the NRA pushed legislation that restricted the ability of the ATF to do its work. As a consequence there has been no ATF director since 2006, the agency is not allowed to share info with police depts, has the same number of agents as it did 30 years ago. 120 million guns have been sold since then. But most of all, the loopholes that allow 40% of the guns sold are sold without a background check. That allows the gun manufacturers access to the criminal market. It’s all about who will buy the next gun. Nothing I described would prevent you from legally owning a gun. Btw, last year there were only 200 legal self defense killings, according to the FBI.

  10. Lisa, is there NOTHING that should be done?

    I think an easy step is to have a national database to track guns. This is no problem for law-abiding gun owners. Massachusetts requires a background check when a gun is sold. How about just adding a gun identifier like a VIN number on a car? When two private parties sell/buy a gun, that gun identifier will move with it. At least, in Massachusetts, the state gets a copy of the sale document even between two gun owners. That information should include the “VIN” number so when a gun is used in a crime, its ownership can be reviewed.

    Being quickly identified might just give a would-be killer some pause. If the gun was obtained illegally, then we will be able to find out who had it last and move on from there to begin identifying patterns.

    Congress, at the behest of the NRA, has forbidden the ATF from keeping a national firearm database. Why? As with most things, at the root is money. Someone or some company is making money selling guns where they should not. And they don’t want it tracked.

  11. @Richard – so this is about the NRA? I thought it was about reducing gun violence. But in my opinion, when the “smart gun” technology is proven (100% fail safe) and affordable, I would anticipate it being welcomed by those who would use it.

    Regarding your statistic about how many times a firearm about legal defense killings is irrelevent. There is no requirement for someone to report when a firearm prevents a crime. So data collected is one sided.

    The 40% number has been disproven and using it here just perpetuates misinformation. If memory serves correct, it is 14%.

    In addition, there is no “loophole”, another myth.

    @Peg – To fix a problem you have to diagnose it. If the violence problem in the country were a patient, would we operate before we had a clear diagnosis?

    What I’m seeing is a rush to pass *anything* for the sake of “doing something”. THAT is wrong.

    A national registry is something to consider. Keep in mind that Canada attempted national background checks and it was unachievable and they abandoned their efforts. I think they’d have to go hand in hand for such a system to work. I don’t have a lot of optimism that 1. the U.S. Gov’t could (or should) create such a system 2. run it efficiently and effectivley, and 3. finance it.

    The Commonwealth of Massachusetts truly does have some of, if not the toughest, gun laws in the nation – short of a full ban. There are no “loopholes” in MA. Anyone who purchases a firearm or long gun has had a background check, whether it’s through a dealer or a personal sale. Why? Because it’s required to have obtained their License or FID. If they no longer qualify, or are considered unsuitable by the Chief, it is revoked. So no sale – for people who follow the law.

    All of the legislation I’ve seen so far continues to put the onus on those who all ready follow the law.

    When I hear folks says it’s not going to stop legal gun owners from owning guns, it’s rather insulting. A rifle that is used in 0.08% of crimes is being demonized and about to be banned. The number of bullets one can have for self defense (proposed) goes back to the cowboy days (6-shooters). Are gun owners supposed to say “thank you”?

  12. LisaP, just to follow your analogy: If a doctor saw a patient who was bleeding, would he wait for a set of xrays and catscan before stopping the bleeding? Having a national database of gun owners and/or guns themselves is both do-able and desirable.

    Question for clarification: Chiefs of Police get involved if the gun owner wants to carry a concealed weapon. Are you saying they are involved before then? I truly don’t know.

  13. Peg

    I understand. But that’s not what we have. Gun violence is at its lowest level. If there are some holes to plug, let’s rationally find them. But what I keep reading about is major, sweeping, changes that won’t change anything.

    To answer your question about concealed carry – the local Chief has final say as to whether the applicant receives their carry permit. He can add restrictions to it (such as target shooting only), or turn it down based on the broad term of suitability. No one in MA can purchase a firearm without this license, whether through a dealer or private sale. When privately sold, the license is presented and info supplied to the state via a form called an FA10. The state tracks all purchases, including serial numbers. (I’d also like to note, that there is a limit of 4 transactions in a year in which a person can make, as a seller, before they are considered a dealer and subject to obtaining Federal licensing (FFL). So I don’t want people to get the impression that private sellers are moving vast quantities of firearms.)

    Anything that would disqualify someone from having an LTC and it would be immediately revoked by the Chief. This includes restraining orders.

    To anyone reading these posts, if you have questions, I’m happy to answer.

  14. The 2nd amendment was clearly written to ensure a balance of power between the citizen and the Government. The founders of this Country rightly recognized that the most violence is committed when a monopoly of force is given to the State. The 2nd amendment has nothing to do with “hunting” or “target” practice. It is about the balance of power between the sovereign citizen and the Government.
    I’m not saying the Citizen should have tow missiles or Nuclear bombs, that’s usually the hyperbole thrown out by gun grabbers, but having weaponry which is equivalent to the average weaponry given to an enlisted soldier does create the balance of power Jefferson and Madison discussed.

    Lastly, I link to a very interesting article which makes much of this gun control conversation moot. I’m not sure if people are aware of 3D printing, I was not, but apparently it can actually print guns and clips. See attached article from Forbes. How will we legislate on 3D printers?
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2013/01/14/gunsmiths-3d-print-high-capacity-ammo-clips-to-thwart-proposed-gun-laws/

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