Gun control pushed by Obama, state officials

Linsky says his bill will contain 25 provisions


GOV. DEVAL PATRICK AND REP. DAVID LINSKY of Natick are pushing gun control measures in Massachusetts, while President Obama unveiled a $500 million package of reforms, calling on Congress to pass universal background checks and ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

The president also issued 23 separate executive orders, including ordering federal agencies to make more data available for background checks, appointing a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and directing the Centers for Disease Control to research gun violence.

Earlier this month, Linsky held a closed-door strategy meeting with more than 100 House and Senate lawmakers, including Republicans, to discuss gun violence and efforts to strengthen the laws in Massachusetts, which already include a ban on assault weapons. CommonWealth reported many parts of Linsky’s bill last week, but he is adding new elements as he prepares to file the legislation later this week.

Linsky said his bill would require gun license applicants to disclose their mental health histories and prohibit assault weapons from being stored in homes. Linsky, a former prosecutor and long-time advocate for stronger gun control laws, told the News Service that the bill will include 25 different provisions, addressing everything from licensing standards and gun storage to limits on the number of guns that can be purchased each month.

The bill will join other efforts to address gun violence in Congress and on Beacon Hill in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. elementary school shootings. Gov.  Patrick on Wednesday filed his own bill, reviving his push for a limit on purchases to one gun a month and calling for an increased investment in mental health treatment.

Like the governor, Linsky said he supports a one-gun-a-month restriction on purchases. His bill will also require gun license applicants to sign a waiver giving police access to their mental health records, with felony criminal charges applicable to those who lie on their application.

Linsky said his bill will also propose a ban on large capacity magazines with more than 10 rounds, or five shotgun shells, and require that large capacity rifles and grandfathered assault weapons be stored at a gun club or shooting range, not in the owner’s home. Gun storage restrictions would eliminate the need to tinker with the types and definitions of weapons outlawed under the state’s assault weapon ban, he said.

“In my view, the only difference between a legal, large capacity rifle and a grandfathered assault weapon or banned assault weapon are cosmetics, so in my view they will be treated the same,” Linsky said.

The bill will also require gun owners to purchase liability insurance, and impose a 25 percent sales tax on ammunition and gun purchases to fund mental health services, victim services, firearm licensing and police training.

While the state of New York acted quickly to toughen its gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, the process in Massachusetts is likely to take longer.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill this week expanding that state’s assault weapons ban and requiring mental health professionals to report to police if they believe a patient might be a danger to themselves or others. The Senate and General Assembly sent the bill to Cuomo’s desk within days of convening its new session.

Asked about the mandatory mental health reporting in the New York law, Linsky said, “I want to hear from mental health professionals before I do that. I’m not going to say no to that idea, but I don’t think it’s been vetted.”

House Speaker Robert DeLeo has asked Northeastern University Associate Dean Jack McDevitt to lead a task force to study gun laws and the intersection between gun violence and mental health. Linsky anticipates a public review of his proposal, and said recommendations from the task force could eventually be folded into his bill.

U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, who is planning to run for U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s seat, called for an immediate vote on the president’s gun control legislation soon after the inauguration.

Congressman Joseph Kennedy III also issued a statement, calling plans to reduce gun violence “painfully overdue in this country.” “Over the past decade there have been too many lives lost, families broken and communities shattered by our inability to reasonably restrict access to dangerous weapons,” Kennedy said.

The president’s proposals and executive orders were vindication for Boston Mayor Tom Menino, who has long advocated for stricter gun laws, as co-chairman of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

“I’m pleased to see the Obama administration is putting forward some good proposals that incorporate many of our priorities, including background checks for all gun sales, especially at gun shows, banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and finally nominating an ATF director. We haven’t had one for six years,” Menino said at a Parkman House press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

Invoking the sites of gun murders in Boston and beyond, Menino said, “Now is not the time to let up. Now is the time not to forget, Newtown, Aurora, Woolson Street, Humboldt Avenue.”

Menino said the mayors group he founded with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had grown from a membership of 12 to a membership of 800.

Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis zeroed in on another figure to make the case for gun control.

“The numbers are staggering. Since Sandy Hook, 900 people have died from firearms shooting incidents. Nine hundred people since Sandy Hook. These numbers are a stain on our society, something that history’s going to hold us accountable for,” Davis said. He said, “It is unconscionable that we stand by and allow people to frighten us into inaction, and hide behind the Constitution.”

Menino reacted with disgust to a question about a National Rifle Association ad that points out Obama has armed security – the Secret Service – for his children and calls the president “an elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security.”

“That’s another stupidity on the NRA’s side. I mean, the president’s kids, they’re under threats all the time. That’s how childish the NRA is. They’re looking for issues that don’t really exist,” Menino said.

Menino said he had talked to Vice President Joe Biden on the phone, and said “we have 90 percent of our stuff” in the president’s plan.

Patrick on Wednesday called on the Legislature to approve $5 million in new spending on mental health programs, including $500,000 to diagnose and treat mental illness among children, $1.1 million for mental health training in school systems, and $900,000 for crisis intervention training.  Mental health advocates in recent years have asserted that Department of Mental Health programs have borne a disproportionate share of budget cuts.  

“Obviously, not everyone who suffers from mental illness is violent, but concerns have been raised in the wake of Newtown – that mental health services be enhanced, and that’s something I’m sensitive to,” Patrick said in Quincy Wednesday morning.

Patrick’s bill would require courts in Massachusetts to transmit relevant mental health records to the state’s criminal justice information system so the information can be included in a national registry that officials in all states can access when making decisions about issuing gun licenses.  

The governor is also refiling his proposal to limit licensed individuals to no more than one weapon purchase per month from licensed dealers, and to require background checks for sales at gun shows. The bill would also reduce access to high-powered rounds of ammunition.

Patrick’s bill will call for tiered punishments for weapons possession on school properties and give police the authority to make arrests on school properties without a warrant, a change designed to quickly address dangerous situations.  The bill will increase penalties for repeat gun law offenders and create four new gun crimes. 

Stop Handgun Violence, a Boston-based gun control advocacy group, responded Wednesday to Obama’s proposal by admonishing Congress for a perceived reluctance to fully embrace the president’s recommendations.

Meet the Author

Matt Murphy

State House News Service
“I applaud President Obama and Vice President Biden’s swift action and common sense response to the Newtown massacre of 20 children and 6 caregivers with a Bushmaster assault weapon equipped with high capacity ammunition clips. Unfortunately, the President’s proposed gun violence prevention legislation will be dead on arrival in the existing US Congress, and the Newtown children will have died in vain, unless concerned Americans jam the Capital switchboard and demand action,” said John Rosenthal, chairman and founder of Stop Handgun Violence.

[Andy Metzger contributed reporting]