Lawmakers, gun control advocates mull strategy

Rep. Linsky promises comprehensive bill in next two weeks

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE.

After hosting a private meeting that drew half the Legislature and invited gun control advocates, Natick Democrat Rep. David Linsky said today he intends to file a comprehensive bill within the next two weeks that will address the type of guns and ammunition that can be sold legally in Massachusetts and who will be eligible to purchase firearms.

Linsky hosted a crowded, closed-door meeting with newly sworn in members of the House and Senate, their staffs and a select group of advocates to discuss ideas to reduce gun violence in Massachusetts and update existing gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut that left 27 dead.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray both listed addressing gun violence as a top priority in speeches given Wednesday to kick off the new legislative session, and Gov. Deval Patrick has said he intends to pursue gun control proposals he has filed in the past that have stalled.

“If we have children, if we have loved ones, if we have families, if we care about the people of Massachusetts we have a stake in this because our goal is quite simple. It is to reduce gun violence in Massachusetts,” Linsky told a large gathering of reporters after the meeting.

The bill, according to Linsky, will address who should be eligible to own a gun, gun storage, mental health screening for gun owners and an update to the definitions and types of firearms and ammunition permitted under the state’s assault weapons ban. Linsky said he will also look to close loopholes in existing law, such as the one that allows purchases to be made at gun shows without background checks.

Linksy said about 150 to 200 people attended the meeting, including 100 Democratic and Republican members of the House and Senate, who demonstrated an “enormous amount of passion” about reforming the state’s gun laws.

“There was a quorum,” Linksy said.

While not invited, Gun Owners’ Action League Executive Director Jim Wallace attended the meeting, though he said it was so crowded he heard pieces of the discussion from the hallway.

“Definitely, the mental health issues have to be paramount,” said Wallace, noting that for the past four years GOAL has been advocating for tracking not just gun owners, but also “prohibited persons” who should be barred from gun ownership.

Wallace called Patrick’s idea of limiting gun purchases to one per month a “slap in the face” to gun owners, and called for an overhaul of the state’s overly complicated licensing system. Wallace said legal gun owners are currently waiting up to five or six months to renew their licenses when it is supposed to happen within 40 days.

Having worked on gun control issues for 14 years in the House, Linsky said the mass shooting of elementary school students and teachers in Newtown, Conn. was not the impetus for his push, but acknowledged it has played a role in “inspiring” many of his colleagues who have been pushed by constituents to action.

“Clearly we have to cut down on illegal guns, but we also have to be looking at whether or not there are too many legal guns out there,” Linsky said.

In addition to updating the list of restricted weapons in Massachusetts, Linsky said mental health screening must be looked at to keep guns out of the hands of those who may not be stable enough to operate a weapon safely.

“A database, quite frankly, won’t work,” Linsky said, highlighting instead a law in Hawaii that requires gun permit applicants to sign a release for their mental health records.

He also called the National Rifle Association’s call for armed guards to be stationed in all schools “absolute folly.”

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Matt Murphy

State House News Service
Patrick said on today he has made his positions clear in legislation filed over the past couple of years to limit gun purchases and close loopholes around gun shows, but said all options should be considered in the new session, including premiums for gun owners on homeowners’ insurance rates.

Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston) said she heard a lot of “creative” ideas in the meeting, including an “intriguing one” to require gun owners to purchase liability insurance. She also said Congress should reauthorize the federal assault weapons ban and close the gun show loophole. Wallace said gun liability insurance doesn’t even exist on the market in Massachusetts.