Hearing on DeLeo’s gun bill draws a crowd

Patrick administration wants legislation to go further

Supporters and opponents packed a State House hearing on Tuesday afternoon on House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s recently-filed bill aimed at reducing gun violence in the Commonwealth.

The bill, which aims to bolster the state’s already strong gun laws, includes implementation of background checks for private gun sales; further sharing of mental health and substance abuse records in order to comply with the National Instant Check System’s federal requirements; extension of suitability standards now in place for handguns to allow police chiefs to determine whether a person should be issued a license for rifles and shotguns; as well as further collection and sharing of data surrounding where a gun that was involved in an injury or death came from and who owned it.

The legislation was based on recommendations from an eight-member commission DeLeo appointed to examine state gun laws and offer recommendations for changes in the wake of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Supporters of stronger gun laws praised the legislation at a State House rally prior to the hearing. “This is a strong bill,” state Public Safety Secretary Andrea Cabral told several dozen members of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, an umbrella group of community and religious organizations formed following the Sandy Hook shootings. Cabral said the Patrick administration will push for the legislation to go even further, however, in addressing gun trafficking by limiting buyers to one gun purchase per month.

Leaders of the anti-violence coalition also voiced support for adding a one-gun-per-month provision to the bill. Rev. Dan Smith, vice president of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, said the coalition also hopes the final bill includes provisions to trace guns used in suicides in addition to those used in crimes.

Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners’ Action League, called the bill a “disappointment.” He said GOAL’s biggest objection is to expansion of the so-called suitability standard to cover rifle and shotgun licensing. Wallace said police chiefs have already abused the discretion they are granted in reviewing handgun licensing.

“The hope is we can work with the Speaker’s office to actually come up with a bill that everybody can support,” Wallace said in an interview. “That’s our goal. We want to make sure it’s something that does not come after lawful citizens, which unfortunately this bill does.”

Two of the leading Democratic candidates for governor testified at the Gardner Auditorium hearing before the Joint Committee on Public Safety.

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State Treasurer Steve Grossman praised the bill, while adding his support for the Patrick administration’s proposal to limit gun purchases.

Attorney General Martha Coakley also voiced support for the bill, but emphasized the need national legislation to stem gun violence. “I’m glad that Massachusetts is standing up to do the right thing to prevent gun violence and to protect our families,” she said. “It’s time the federal government follow our lead once again.”