July 5, 2013

Massachusetts lawmakers cope with gun bills

Nearly 60 gun-related bills are under consideration more than six months after the Newtown killings.

The Associated Press

BOSTON - Massachusetts lawmakers are still grappling with dozens of gun-related bills more than six months after a shooting rampage left 20 first-graders and six educators dead in neighboring Connecticut.

Those bills include proposals like Gov. Deval Patrick's legislation to tighten access to high-powered rounds of ammunition, create four new types of firearms-related crimes and mandate that buyers undergo background checks before purchasing weapons at gun shows.

While Patrick's bill takes a sweeping approach to updating the state's firearms laws, many of the other nearly 60 gun-related bills under consideration are more targeted.

They include proposals that would treat toy guns as true weapons if used during a crime, require gun dealers to collect identifying information from anyone who buys bulletproof vests or body armor, establish statewide gun buyback programs and study whether GPS locators should be installed in guns.

Yet another proposal would create a Gun Offender Registry Board, modeled in part after the state's existing Sex Offender Registry Board designed to track convicted sex offenders. The gun offender board would maintain a centralized computerized registry of all gun offenders in Massachusetts. The bill defines a gun offender as anyone convicted of the unlawful use or criminal possession of a firearm.

Not all the bills are aimed at limiting access to guns.

Other bills being weighed on Beacon Hill would bar the confiscation of "any lawfully carried or lawfully owned firearm, rifle, shotgun, machine gun or ammunition" during a declared state of emergency, reduce firearm identification card renewal fees for seniors and create a sales tax exemptions for gun safes and trigger locks.

Another bill would repeal Massachusetts' assault weapons ban.

The renewed push to update the state's already strict gun control laws was sparked by the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

Patrick filed his bill in January at the start of the new legislative session and just a month after the killings.

"I am encouraged by the palpable consensus in our Legislature that the time for action is now," Patrick said at the time. "All of us must pull in the same direction to bring about real change in this state and across the country."

Part of the focus at the Statehouse is also on mental illness as it relates to potential gun violence.

Patrick's bill would require Massachusetts courts to send all relevant mental health records to the state's criminal justice information system so the federal government could include that information in a national gun license registry. The bill also includes $5 million for Department of Mental Health programs, including training teachers to recognize symptoms of mental illness in students.

Legislative leaders have also promised action.

In March, House Speaker Robert DeLeo named an eight-member panel to advise him on how to address gun violence.

"We need to make sure we craft legislation that deals comprehensively with guns and mental illness," said DeLeo, D-Winthrop.

The Legislature's Public Safety Committee has launched a series of public hearings across the state on proposed changes to gun laws. The next hearing is scheduled for Monday at Assumption College in Worcester.

Others hope to stem acts of gun violence by instituting what they've described as market-based solutions.

One of the bills before the Legislature would require gun owners to purchase liability insurance in case the firearm is used to injure anyone.

The insurance policies would give those injured by a weapon a legal recourse, backers of the bill say, but they also would create financial incentives that could reduce accidents and fatalities. Gun owners, for example, might see lower insurance rates if they agree to take firearms training courses and properly store their weapons.

The bill's sponsor, state Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick, said insurance companies were also able to discourage smoking through the marketplace and make cars safer using tools unavailable to law enforcement.


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