44 gun recommendations

DeLeo panel ignores eye-catching Beacon Hill proposals

The committee created by House Speaker Robert DeLeo to explore ways of reducing gun violence in Massachusetts made 44 recommendations on Monday, most of them nuts and bolts proposals to improve what the panel concluded are already strong state laws.

The eight-member committee, made up of people with diverse views on gun control, eschewed most of the eye-catching proposals put forth on Beacon Hill in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, including a limit on monthly gun purchases, a limit on firearm magazine capacity, gun liability insurance, and a requirement that firearms only be stored at gun ranges. The panel instead unanimously recommended fine-tuning existing laws, closing loopholes, and providing more funding for programs that might lead to reduced gun violence.

Jack McDevitt, the committee’s chairman and a dean at Northeastern University, said the panel focused its attention on recommendations backed up by research and likely to make it through the Legislature. He and other members of the committee suggested they had disagreements on some issues but managed to find common ground over the last 10 months. “You can have a deep, thoughtful, respectful conversation about these issues,” McDevitt said at a press conference at Northeastern.

“We argued, argued, and argued,” said Robert Cerasoli, a committee member who previously represented Quincy in the Massachusetts House and served two terms as state inspector general. “What we wanted to do is make progress.”

In its report, the committee acknowledged Massachusetts gun laws are already some of the toughest in the nation and that gun ownership and the rate of gun deaths here are already low relative to the rest of the country. The report said 13 percent of Massachusetts households own a gun, compared to 33 percent nationally. The rate of gun deaths in Massachusetts is the second lowest in the nation, behind only Hawaii.

Yet McDevitt said the committee felt the state could do better in reducing gun violence because most West European countries have stronger gun laws and fewer guns and fewer gun deaths per capita.

Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts, said after the press conference that he was very disappointed with the report. He said the committee failed to acknowledge that existing gun laws have done little to prevent crimes in Massachusetts.

Most of the committee proposals dealt with nitty gritty issues that broke down into six major areas:

Gun trafficking – The report said 60 percent of the guns used in crimes in Massachusetts come from other states, such as New Hampshire and Vermont, where few restrictions are placed on gun ownership. To reduce the number of so-called crime guns that originate within Massachusetts, the committee recommended requiring all private gun sales to be processed by licensed dealers who can do background checks on the new owners. The report also recommended tougher penalties for those who fail to report stolen guns and the tracing of all guns used in Massachusetts crimes.

Licensing – The committee said the current licensing process is confusing and varies too much from community to community. The panel recommended developing standards for what constitutes a “suitable person for gun ownership” and a set of guidelines local chiefs of police can follow to determine an individual’s suitability. The panel recommended that the same standards used to grant a license to carry a firearm be used in granting a Firearm Identification Card, which is needed to own a rifle or shotgun. Because of frequent processing delays, the DeLeo committee recommended that existing gun licenses remain valid until a renewal application is either approved or denied.

School safety – McDevitt said the state’s schools are safe, but the committee recommended a number of measures to improve emergency preparedness plans.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Safety training – The committee supported the development of standardized firearm safety courses, including a live-fire component.

Who to target – McDevitt said research indicates the mentally ill are no more likely than the population at large to engage in gun violence. In fact, the report indicated the mentally ill are 11 times more likely to be victims of violence. The report said the more likely perpetrators of future violence are those convicted of violent misdemeanors, those issued domestic violence restraining orders, those convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol twice within five years, and those convicted of two or more misdemeanors involving controlled substances within five years. The report recommends that Massachusetts come into compliance with the reporting requirements of the National Instant Background Check System, which requires the state to pass along the names of those convicted of using controlled substances or addicted to them as well as those committed to a mental institution or judged by a court “mental defective.”

Funding – The report recommends more funding for a wide variety of school, mental health, and violence prevent programs, but did not request specific dollar amounts. “There is a need for more school social workers and mental health professionals working in collaboration with our schools,” the report said. “There should also be more opportunity for troubled youth to receive timely help and assistance for their concerns – to prevent an individual’s problem from becoming a major societal problem.”