Tweaked gun bill sails through House

Effort by GOP to put off debate defeated

After accepting some changes to his proposed legislation, House Speaker Robert DeLeo pushed a gun violence bill through the House on a 111-37 vote. The House’s deliberations were unusual in that the vote on the overall bill was taken before House members debated 35 amendments to the measure.

DeLeo’s original bill barely made it out of the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee in June on a 7-6 vote, so it was tweaked in the House Ways and Means Committee and released to the full House less than 24 hours before the Wednesday vote.

The quick turnaround drew criticism from House Republicans, who said they weren’t given adequate time between the release of the new draft and the vote to read over the bill, hear from constituents, and speak with school officials. Rep. Angelo D’Emilia, a Republican from Bridgewater, brought a motion to postpone the vote until next week.

But Rep. David Linsky, a Democrat from Natick, pointed out that gun violence legislation was first broached in December 2012 in response to the shootings in Sandy Hook. While other states such as Connecticut and New York took fast action, Linsky said Massachusetts acted in a “deliberative” fashion. “Virtually every single member has been able to weigh in,” he said. “It is time to act.”

The motion to postpone failed 57-91.

In advance of the vote, DeLeo issued a statement calling the bill “one of the most effective gun laws in the country, an important public safety measure that can serve as a model to other states.” The bill still requires approval of the Senate and the governor.

Democrat Rep. Harold Naughton of Clinton, co-chair of the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee, gave opening remarks on the bill, calling it a rare victory for both Second Amendment advocates and gun control advocates.

“I’ve never seen a more deliberative process,” he said, before covering some of the big issues the bill seeks to address.

He acknowledged the bill does extend the discretion of local chiefs and licensing authorities to deny licenses to carry rifles or handguns, even if an individual passes a criminal background check. However, the new version requires that any person denied a license be given the reasons for the denial in writing and have the opportunity to challenge the decision in District Court.

In DeLeo’s version of the bill, all private gun sales would have gone through a licensed dealer, a measure which drew criticism from gun activists. In the revised version, private sales would go through a state web portal. A seller would have to put in the buyer’s information, and would automatically receive a message on whether to proceed with the sale or not. Under the new version of the bill, Massachusetts would also become fully compliant with a national instant background check system.

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The Massachusetts Gun Owners Action League said it is “neutral” on the new version of the bill. The group had previously rallied against the earlier version.

The Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence hailed passage of the bill. “This bill takes a thoughtful and reasonable approach to reducing the epidemic of gun violence by strengthening and expanding our background check system, providing new tools to law enforcement to keep guns out of the wrong hands and trace weapons used in violent acts, and respecting the rights of lawful gun owners,” the group said in a statement.

DeLeo introduced his version of the bill late in May, following months of public hearings and testimony in front of the Gun Violence Task Force. The Task Force, made up of academics, police officers, lawmakers, and mental health professionals, met over a dozen times in 2013, culminating in the release of 44 policy recommendations last February.