Editorial: Time is right for Massachusetts Legislature to enact tougher gun laws



Last modified: Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Massachusetts is in line to join other states adopting tougher gun control legislation to reduce shootings resulting in an alarming number of violent deaths throughout the United States. We hope the Legislature acts before the session ends July 31 to approve sweeping reforms proposed last month by House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo.

The legislation would give local police more discretion to deny a license for rifles or shotguns based on a person’s “suitability” to own a firearm; require all private sales of firearms to be conducted with a licensed dealer present; add Massachusetts to a national database for criminal and mental health background checks; and strengthen efforts to prevent suicides which, according to state officials, account for 60 percent of gun deaths in Massachusetts.

The bill was prompted by the Dec. 14, 2012, massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, when a 20-year-old man with three weapons killed 20 students and six staff members. “In the face of continued absence of federal leadership, leaders in state government have to step up wherever we can,” DeLeo said.

Connecticut and New York are among the states which toughened their gun laws since the Sandy Hook murders. Connecticut requires buyers to pass a national criminal background check, expanded weapons banned in the state and added high-capacity magazines to the ban. New York expanded an assault weapons ban, tightened efforts to keep guns away from mentally ill people and imposed tougher sentences for crimes committed by people with guns.

Still the violence persists here and across the country. Springfield recorded three shooting deaths on the streets of the city between May 27 and June 4. The most recent mass shooting occurred May 23 in Isla Vista, California, where a 22-year-old college student, Elliot Rodger, killed six people and wounded 13 others. Three semiautomatic handguns, all bought legally at local gun stores, were found in his BMW, where he committed suicide. Family friends described Rodger as emotionally disturbed since childhood and he posted a video on YouTube the day before his rampage describing his “existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires.” It was titled “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution.”

Rodger’s case is typical of most mass shootings in the United States which are committed by people with legal weapons. Research by Mother Jones magazine shows that in the last 30 years, mass killers used 22 shotguns, 23 revolvers, 29 rifles and 77 semiautomatic handguns — and more than three-quarters were legally purchased.

California, already with some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, is now considering legislation known as a gun violence restraining order which would allow people to notify authorities about a friend or relative who may commit violence. A restraining order could then be sought from a judge to prevent that person at risk of violence from buying or owning a gun.

As state legislatures debate how to reduce the risk of gun violence, a grassroots group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, is working nationally to keep attention focused on the issue. Two Amherst women, Maria Goldberg-Jamete and Ann Cooper-Ciccarelli, are promoting the group’s agenda at events such as house parties and showing a documentary film at the Jones Library.

Their goals include requiring universal background checks for gun ownership, closing loopholes so that weapons may not easily be purchased at gun shows and online, adopting strong federal gun-trafficking laws and raising awareness about safe gun storage. Part of their effort is to have people publicly describe their own gun-related tragedies. “People need to understand the magnitude of the loss. It’s important that mass shootings are not allowed to fade once everything is cleaned up,” says Goldberg-Jamete.

We agree and applaud the work done by Goldberg-Jamete, Cooper-Ciccarelli and others to make sure the consequences of gun violence are not forgotten. And we hope a majority of Massachusetts legislators see the wisdom of toughening gun laws in an effort to slow the rising toll of victims.




 


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