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Massachusetts already has some of the most comprehensive gun violence prevention laws and lowest firearm death rates in the nation. In 1998, the Commonwealth became the first state in the nation to require manufacturing and marketing standards for the gun industry. The same year, Massachusetts law required renewable gun licensing and registration; safe storage with trigger locks or in a safe; and police chief discretion for handgun permitting, which means that even applicants that pass a criminal background check might be denied a gun permit if the chief of police deems them to be a danger to themselves or the community. In 2004, when the federal ban on 19 assault weapons and on ammunition magazines greater than 10 rounds expired, Massachusetts was one of only eight states to pass a permanent ban.
As a result of the enforcement of these forward-thinking laws, Massachusetts reduced firearm-related injuries and deaths by 29 percent between 1994 and 2010.
As a result of the enforcement of these forward-thinking laws, Massachusetts reduced firearm-related injuries and deaths by 29 percent between 1994 and 2010. Then came the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on December 14, 2012. Twenty-six people, 20 of whom were children between the ages of 5 and 10 years old, were murdered by a mentally unstable young man with an assault weapon and multiple large capacity ammunition magazines.
The horror of that day inspired Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a moderate legislator who, until then, had not been an advocate of new gun control measures, to appoint a committee to study gun violence and gun laws in Massachusetts. The eight-person committee was comprised of people with diverse views on gun control, including criminologists, law enforcement specialists, mental health advocates and school safety professionals. The goal: to prevent a Sandy Hook-like tragedy from taking place here.
Over the course of 18 months, the committee met monthly, held public hearings and heard testimony from hundreds of citizens. Topics ranged from mental health record keeping; suitability standards for gun licensing; and best practices with respect to suicide prevention and school safety planning. The committee issued 44 unanimous recommendations to be used in drafting effective and comprehensive gun safety legislation. Among them were four critical gun safety measures: background checks for all private gun sales; an extension of police chief discretion over the issuing of permits for shotguns and rifles; a requirement that courts and law enforcement report all individuals who have been committed to a mental health institution and mandatory suicide prevention counselling; and school safety plans.
[House Speaker Robert] DeLeo drafted a bill that would close dangerous loopholes in existing law and continue to make Massachusetts a national model for effectively reducing gun violence without impinging the rights of law-abiding gun owners.
From the committee’s recommendations, DeLeo drafted a bill that would close dangerous loopholes in existing law and continue to make Massachusetts a national model for effectively reducing gun violence without impinging the rights of law-abiding gun owners. He devoted hundreds of hours of personal advocacy to getting support for it from both sides of the aisle, and he won the support of the Gun Owners Action League (the NRA affiliate in Massachusetts), and that group’s lead sponsor, Republican Minority Leader George Peterson, along with seven other Republicans.
In July, during the final days of the legislative session, the bill passed both the House (122-30) and the Senate (37-3), with bipartisan support. Gov. Deval Patrick signed An Act Relative to the Reduction of Gun Violence into law in August.
Gun violence claims 88 lives a day in this country, including that of one child every three hours. While there are no fail safes, few states have been more proactive in trying to establish them. Today, Massachusetts is a safer place to live, work and raise a family, thanks to House Speaker Robert DeLeo and to Gov. Patrick and the leaders in the House and Senate who recognized the historic importance of this legislation.
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