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Supreme Court could soon weaken gun laws in several states, including Mass.

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A family pays their respects next to crosses bearing the names of Tuesday's shooting victims at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
A family pays their respects next to crosses bearing the names of Tuesday's shooting victims at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

The latest mass shootings in southwest Texas and Buffalo saddened Greg Gibson of Gloucester, who knows firsthand the grief and trauma families are suffering.

Gibson lost his son, Galen, in a shooting at Simon's Rock College in western Massachusetts 30 years ago. And he believes the country needs stronger gun control laws to prevent future tragedies.

"There are probably 250,00 more guns now than there were in 1992 when my son was murdered in a school shooting," Gibson said. "So, clearly, whatever we're doing is not working."

The school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, left 19 children and two teachers dead. And it came just 10 days after a shooting by a white supremacist killed 10 more people in a Buffalo supermarket.

The massacres in the past two weeks have prompted many gun safety advocates like Gibson to renew their push for tighter rules. But so far, they are losing the battle.

Democrats have had little success passing stricter national laws in Congress. And many expect the Supreme Court to issue as a ruling as early as next week that could weaken state laws in several states, including Massachusetts.

The high court is hearing a challenge to a century-old law in New York that restricts who can carry a gun in public and requires people to obtain a special license.

Second Amendment advocates say residents shouldn't have to prove they need a concealed weapon, because, they say, the right is guaranteed by the Constitution.

"The law takes a right and turns it into a privilege," said Jerold Levine, a New York attorney, who supports the challenge to the law.

Levine objects to giving licensing officials — police chiefs, in most cases — the power to decide whether or not a person can avail themselves of their right to bear arms.

"If they don't think you need it, you can't have it, Levine said. "That's what I oppose."

Many observers believe the Supreme Court's conservative majority will agree with that argument and strike down the New York law. If so, Levine says similar laws in a handful of other states, including Massachusetts, could be overturned as well.

"It's almost certainly going to have an effect on states with similar provisions," he said.

But gun control advocates say the country's loose restrictions bear much of the blame for the latest round of mass shootings.

"America is the gun-violence capital of the world," said John Rosenthal, a longtime gun safety advocate in Massachusetts and the founder of stop Handgun Violence, agrees, in a weary tone.  "We have more gun violence in America than 26 industrialized nations combined."

Rosenthal co-wrote an editorial in the Boston Globe this week with David Hogg, an activist, who survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School  in Parkland, Florida, in 2018.

Rosenthal and Hogg called on Congress to pass laws that would require background checks on all private gun sales and outlaw military-style weapons, including the weapon that the shooter allegedly used in Texas.

Otherwise, Rosenthal worries, the slaughter will continue.

"There has not been a day in any child's life — born since 2000 — that there has not been a risk of being massacred with firearms in their schools," he said.

Rosenthal blames the National Rifle Association's stranglehold on Republicans in Congress. But many Republicans and 2nd Amendment advocates insist the focus should be on mental health — not firearms.

"It's not about access to guns, necessarily, it's about access to us," said Jim Wallace, a lobbyist with the Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts, a local affiliate of the NRA.

Wallace argues that better laws and policies are needed to deal with the "very small percentage" of people who suffer from mental illness and are dangerous.

"The problem is that we're arguing about having dangerous people having access to guns," Wallace said. "I want to have the discussion about why they have access to us."

In other words, it's not the gun that poses a danger, it's the person.

In contrast, gun control advocates say dangerous weapons make dangerous people even more dangerous — both to themselves and others. And Rosenthal argues that Massachusetts, with one of the lowest death rates from guns in the country, proves that robust gun restrictions work.

"We've reduced the rate of gun deaths by 40 percent without banning anything except assault weapons and guns without safety features," Rosenthal said. And if every state has an equally low gun death rate, he estimates 27,000 lives could be saved a year.

Now strong gun restrictions could be in jeopardy in at least five states and Washington, D.C. The Supreme Court decision could come as soon as next week — and push the country further toward less restrictive laws — even in liberal states like Massachusetts.

Gibson, who lost his son 30 years ago, sees a country moving in the wrong direction.

"There are now 25 states that allow constitutional concealed carry," Gibson said. "This is the future."

Gibson said it's hard not be frustrated and "just give up."

But for the sake of his son, Galen, and the families in Texas, Buffalo and elsewhere, he plans to keep fighting.

This segment aired on May 27, 2022.

Related:

Anthony Brooks Twitter Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.

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