Committee to Reduce Firearm Violence Calls For Stricter State Gun Laws

Massachusetts already has some of the toughest legislation in place, but a panel of experts thinks "more can be done."

Photo via Associated Press

Photo via Associated Press

At the behest of House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a committee created to explore ways the state can battle back against gun violence convened at Northeastern University on Monday to deliver a final report on reforms that call for tightening the state’s already strict firearms laws.

The Committee to Reduce Firearm Violence, made up of police officers, lawmakers, and mental health professionals, released a series of 44 recommendations they believe could help reduce gun-related deaths and shootings in Massachusetts, with a focus on making the gun licensing process less confusing, and background checks more stringent. The report was released at a time when Boston is grappling with a sharp increase in shooting deaths in the city.

The findings, which could set the standard for a final bill proposal to go before the legislature this session, focused on clamping down on firearm storage laws, directing funds to schools for mental health services, looking closely at gun trafficking prevention measures, and requiring mandatory firearm training for people that want to own a weapon. Other recommendations suggest increasing penalties for failing to notify officials about a stolen or lost firearm, and implementing background checks for all secondary private firearms sales, which would have to be done through a licensed dealer.

The report did not include limitations on the amount of firearms that can be purchased, or further restrictions on magazine capacity for some weapons.

“Our recommendations are intended to tighten the already strong gun legislation in Massachusetts, and are directed toward those irresponsible gun owners who do not follow the Commonwealth laws and regulations,” according to the report.

Over the course of a nine-month period, between March and the end of December, the committee met 15 times to hash out the proposals included in the report, which were based on interviews, research, and academic literature. The committee, led by Northeastern University criminologist Jack McDevitt, was first commissioned by DeLeo back in March of 2013, following the mass shooting that claimed the lives of 26 children and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The long-awaited recommendations were crafted after a series of hearings were held across the state, in front of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. The final hearing, held at the State House last September, drew hundreds of people on both sides of the argument for and against gun reform.

DeLeo asked the team of experts, who have varying backgrounds in school administration, mental health, community safety, and gun control and licensing to sift through a stack of legislation filed by state officials last year, and come up with a cohesive approach to putting an end to gun problems plaguing Massachusetts. “The report is an important step in helping us find ways to make Massachusetts a safer place for our children and families. I look forward to reviewing their recommendations as we craft gun violence legislation along with the Committee on Public Safety,” DeLeo said.

Although Massachusetts has some of the strictest laws pertaining to gun ownership, the committee concluded that things could be vastly improved based on those bills filed by elected officials.

While the committee claims they were aware that “responsible gun owners” felt they were being unfairly targeted, and tried to make sure the reforms didn’t infringe on their civil rights, gun advocates said they were left out of the discussions about the proposed changes to state law, and claimed the committee’s recommendations should be ignored.

“Last week the Speaker acknowledged that Massachusetts has some of the strongest gun laws in the nation—but there was room for improvement,” said Jim Wallace, Executive Director of the Gun Owner’s Action League. “There is room to improve.  We need to stop treating legal, law-abiding [owners] like criminals, and start treating the criminals like criminals.”

Wallace claimed that members of GOAL were “all but left out” of the process of finalizing the report. “If the Commission refuses to hear from the very people that actually know the gun laws and provide the most comprehensive gun safety training in the Commonwealth, it’s not worth the paper its printed on,” he said.

The Committee said they recognized that changes proposed in the report may be challenging, but if adopted could “provide a pathway” to cut back on gun violence. “Overall Massachusetts continues to be a leader nationally in efforts to reduce gun violence. The Committee believes that even more can be done,” the group concluded in its report.

The full report can be read below:

Strategies for Reducing Gun Violence in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts