BOSTON (AP) — House leaders unveiled a wide-ranging bill Tuesday that they said would strengthen Massachusetts’ already-tough gun laws while respecting the rights of lawful gun owners.
The legislation would for the first time give local police chiefs the ability to deny a license for rifles or shotguns based on suitability standards and extend federal restrictions for firearm acquisition to the state level. It would also require background checks for all private gun sales and require Massachusetts to join a national instant criminal background database that would include pertinent mental health information.
The long-awaited bill mirrors recommendations of a task force established by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat, after the December 2012 school shooting that killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut.
‘NOT A KNEEJERK REACTION’
“This is not a kneejerk reaction to Newtown,” said John Rosenthal, head of the Massachusetts-based group Stop Handgun Violence. “It’s thoughtful, it’s smart and it drills down into how the mentally ill, and how kids and how criminals are accessing guns, and what can be done without banning guns.”
While many states acted hastily to propose new laws after Newtown, DeLeo said, he sought a slower approach to making “smart, meaningful changes” in Massachusetts. But, he added, the state was compelled to act because Congress did not.
“In the face of continued absence of federal leadership, leaders in state government have to step up wherever we can,” said DeLeo, who alluded to other recent mass shootings including one last week in California in which seven people were shot to death, including the gunman.
Jim Wallace, head of the Massachusetts Gun Owners Action League, praised some aspects of the bill including proposals around mental health, but called it disappointing overall.
‘LOT OF NONSTARTERS IN THERE’
“There are a lot of nonstarters in there for us,” said Wallace, including a provision that would expand suitability checks that local police chiefs conduct on individuals seeking to carry concealed weapons to include those applying to own rifles or shotguns.
State Rep. George Peterson, R-Grafton, the assistant House minority leader, said he’d seek several amendments before deciding whether to support the bill, including a single uniform suitability standard for police chiefs in licensing. He said the measure also failed to adequately address gun violence plaguing urban neighborhoods and urged tougher sentences for people convicted of illegally selling a gun or using one during a crime.
Supporters noted the bill includes important concessions to gun owners, including one that seeks to relieve a frustrating backlog of license renewal applications.
“Lawful gun owners in (Massachusetts) aren’t the problem. Hopefully they are part of the solution,” said Rep. Harold Naughton, D-Clinton, the House public safety committee chairman and one of the bill’s architects.
LAWS CAN BE ‘EVEN STRONGER’
Northeastern University professor Jack McDevitt, who headed the eight-member task force, said that while Massachusetts was one of the safer states, statistically, for gun-related fatalities and already had effective laws, “they can be even stronger and they can make us safer.”
The bill would increase penalties for failing to report lost or stolen firearms, improperly storing guns, and carrying a gun on school grounds.
DeLeo predicted final passage of a bill by the July 31 conclusion of the legislative session.
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