We spearheaded state’s 2014 gun law; new legislation can build on it

House, Senate, governor must work together to keep Mass. a national leader

FOR NEARLY 10 years Massachusetts has been one of the states with the lowest rates of firearm deaths. Firearm deaths include homicides and suicides by firearm and firearm accidents. Most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the annual firearm death rate in Massachusetts is 3.4 per 100,000 residents while the national firearm death rate is 14.7 per 100,000, or nearly five times the rate in Massachusetts.

This low death rate is due to strong state level legislation, which has helped produce a relatively low firearm ownership rate. Massachusetts has been viewed as a model that many other states copy to keep their population safe.   

One problem with firearm legislation is that new technologies produce weapons not even envisioned 10 years ago and firearm manufacturers often shift the way they build firearms to skirt state level legislation. So as the firearm market changes, so too must the legislation intended to reduce firearm violence.  

In 2014, we worked together to update Massachusetts firearm laws following the mass killings of school children in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. Following that mass homicide, one of us, as speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, formed a task force, chaired by the other, a Northeastern University expert in criminal justice issues, to determine if additional legislative changes might make the Commonwealth even safer. 

The task force recommended 44 legislative changes intended to close loopholes, improve training, empower local law enforcement, and target resources. The legislation that emerged based on the recommendations was passed by Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate and signed into law by then-Gov. Deval Patrick. 

Following the passage of this legislation, Massachusetts, already a comparatively safe state in terms in terms of firearm violence, became the safest state in the country. 

It has been nearly 10 years since that legislation was passed and much has changed when dealing with access to firearms. In 2014, 3D printing was just becoming available, but today a 3D printer can be purchased for as little as $400. These printers can produce firearms that have no serial number and cannot be traced the way traditionally manufactured firearms can be.

These “ghost guns” are increasingly being seized by local police across the Commonwealth after being involved in shootings. In addition to “ghost guns,” manufacturers have made changes in assault style rifles intended to get around the state’s existing assault weapon ban.   

To address these and many other developments, the current House speaker, Ron Mariano, and Judiciary Committee co-chairman, Rep. Michael Day, recently put forth the most comprehensive firearm violence prevention legislation since the 2014 statute.

This bill will address the changes noted above and many more areas of concern identified during a listening tour Chairman Day and the members of the Judiciary Committee sponsored this past spring in 11 regions of the state. The bill would require all so-called “ghost guns” to have a serial number embedded on multiple areas of the firearm and to be registered just the same as all other firearms in Massachusetts. It would call for a statewide database of firearms used in crimes that would assist law enforcement agencies by identifying guns used in crimes in multiple communities. It would require firearm training classes to require live fire as part of the training, a commonsense provision but one that does not currently exist in Massachusetts. It would expand the list of individuals who could request an emergency use protection order, or “red flag,” to include school administrators, medical professionals, and employers. It would also prohibit individuals who are intoxicated or under the influence of marijuana from carrying a firearm. 

Meet the Author

Meet the Author

Jack McDevitt

Director, Institute on Race and Justice, Northeastern University
No single state’s legislation can adequately address firearm violence, since individuals can drive to another state with fewer restrictions to purchase firearms. We need federal legislation to comprehensively deal with firearm violence.

Until such national legislation is enacted, each state should do all it can to protect members of its communities. We believe, working together, the House, Senate, and governor could craft a final bill that would maintain Massachusetts’s role as a national leader in efforts to reduce firearm deaths and injuries.  

Robert DeLeo is university fellow for public life at Northeastern University and a former speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Jack McDevitt is professor of the practice emeritus at Northeastern University and former chair of the Gun Violence Reduction Task Force.