Guest columnist Susan J. Tracy: Gun bills promise to make state safer

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Published: 4/30/2023 11:36:38 AM
Modified: 4/30/2023 11:36:11 AM

In addition to the recent carnage in Nashville, last spring 18-year-old shooters in separate incidents killed 10 adults in Buffalo, New York, and 19 children and two adults in Uvalde, Texas, 10 days apart. Both shooters were using semiautomatic guns.

Nationwide, there are over 415 million guns circulating in our cities and towns, 25 million of which are semiautomatic military-style rifles, the Colt AR-15 being the most popular. As dangerous as they are alone, these semiautomatic rifles can now be easily converted through a “Glock switch,” or a machine gun conversion device (MCD), to a large-capacity, fully automatic assault weapon.

Similar devices and weapons also are being made in untraceable, 3-D plastic, like “ghost guns” that can’t be traced.

The legislation just passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in June (the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act) doesn’t come close to keeping up with this new threat. The gun lobby, the Republican Party and the Supreme Court, separately and together, have subverted all attempts at common-sense gun control.

Thankfully, Massachusetts has some of the stricter gun laws in the country. A person can’t buy a gun or ammunition without a license, which can take up to 30 days to obtain. The laws prohibit the purchase of “large capacity weapons” — assault weapons and firearms that hold 10 or more rounds of ammunition, or more than five shotgun shells. As of January 2023, no one under the age of 18 may purchase a firearm or ammunition, and no one under 21 may purchase “a handgun, large capacity weapon or large capacity feeding device.”

However, Massachusetts law currently says nothing about MCDs or ghost guns.

Among the many firearms-related bills filed in the Massachusetts House this year, two have local Rep. Mindy Domb of Amherst as a sponsor. Massachusetts bill H.D. 2959 would impose a 36% tax on all guns and ammunition sales with the money collected going to low-income communities gun buyback programs, community-based public health programs to prevent gun violence, and services for gun violence survivors and for victim family members.

Another bill, H.D. 503, sponsored by Marjorie Decker, Vanessa Howard and Domb, would make gun owners civilly liable for crimes committed with their lost and stolen weapons.

These are critical bills that should be passed. However, only one proposed bill strikes at the heart of the problem. Massachusetts House Bill H.D. 353, filed by David Paul Linsky of Natick, would ban all semiautomatic firearms in Massachusetts by replacing the words “assault weapon” as a prohibited class of weapon with “any rifle or shotgun containing a semiautomatic mechanism.”

A semiautomatic weapon fires one shot every time the trigger is pulled; an automatic weapon fires continually until the trigger is released. Magazines that can store 10-30 rounds are common on these weapons of war. This bill would address the MCD issue, and the others would provide compensation for victims of gun violence and liability laws for gun owners.

These proposed changes are necessary steps to address gun violence in our communities. If you support any of this legislation, please let the sponsoring representatives know and please write to all of your western Massachusetts delegation about outlawing MCDs and ghost guns. Our lives depend on it.

Susan J. Tracy lives in Amherst.
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